Tonight, in the first meeting of the year between these two clubs, the Calgary Flames (21-28-7) face-off against the nearly identical (in overall record only) New York Islanders (22-28-8) at the lowly Nassau Coliseum. It’s an early one as the puck drops at 5 pm MT on Sportsnet West.
The New York Islanders were once a great and storied franchise. The team entered the league as an expansion team in 1972 and it took them only eight years to become a powerhouse. They won four consecutive Stanley Cups, a feat that is probably impossible in today’s parity-filled NHL, from 1980 to 1983. However, things haven’t been the same since.
The Islanders have not won a division title since 1987-88 and have only qualified for the playoffs a handful of times since then (only qualifying twice since the 2005 lockout), never making any hay when they did make the playoffs. The problems with the organization have been rampant, stemming from ownership problems and terrible decisions from the folks overseeing hockey operations (they’re still paying Yashin $2 million + for another year after this season!).
More recently, after drafting superstar John Tavares a few years ago and putting some pieces around him, they seemed to finally be making some headway last year when they qualified for the playoffs and did quite well against the star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins. However, this year the problems persisted. The New York Islanders got off to a slow start and made a trade to put them back in the playoff conversation. They traded a 1st rounder, a 2nd rounder and Matt Moulson, John Tavares’ linemate and one of his closest friends, to Buffalo for Thomas Vanek.
They gave up a boat-load for Vanek in the hopes he would mesh well with Tavares and create a one-two punch to get them over the top. What’s interesting about the deal is that although Thomas Vanek is a great player, Matt Moulson is also a pretty good player. Over the past four seasons Moulson has scored 214 points where as Vanek has scored 228; Moulson scored at about 94% the rate that Vanek did. The story gets better as the NYI had hoped to sign the set to be unrestricted free agent Vanek to a long-term deal after this year. However, Vanek recently turned down a $50 million 7 year deal to test the market. The Islanders have not been any better after acquiring Vanek for a king’s ransom and now they will likely need to trade him before the trade deadline to try and get something back.
How does this all relate to the Flames? It’s exactly these types of decisions that can kill a rebuild. It’s great to go after a guy like Vanek, he is a fantastic talent. But I don’t know about trading a very good complimentary player like Moulson as well as high draft picks to do it. Even before hindsight kicks in, it seems like that’s a lateral move at best. The Islanders are now worse off after that deal and further away from becoming good again. Let’s hope for some better decision making from the Flames’ brass over the next few years.
Ok … now to this game.
The line-ups, coming in hot, by way of www.dailyfaceoffs.com
- Hudler – Backlund – Stempniak
- Cammalleri – Monahan – Colborne
- Bouma – Stajan – D. Jones
- Galiardi – Byron – McGrattan
- Brodie – Giordano
- Russell – Butler
- Smid – Wideman
Byron is expected to draw-back into the line-up tonight. Amazingly, it will be Westgarth sitting out and not Galiardi and the fourth line will be formidable!
Cammalleri has not looked himself since coming back from injury, as he’s been pretty non-existent out there. Perhaps he’s having some lingering effects from the mild concussion he suffered a few weeks ago. This couldn’t come at a worse time as Cammalleri will likely be traded in the next few weeks and his current play could affect the return the Flames receive.
Joni Ortio is up with the Flames as Ramo went down with an injury over the weekend. He won’t start tonight, however, as Hartley is running with Berra again tonight.
- Vanek – Tavares – Okposo
- Grabner – Nielsen – Clutterbuck
- Bailey – Nelson -McDonald
- Martin – Cizikas – Boulton
- Straight – MacDonald
- Visnovsky – Hickey
- De Haan – Donovan
The Islanders team struggles aside, that is one deadly first line. Tavares has turned into a top 5 guy in this league, Vanek is usually good for 70 points and Okposo has been lights-out good since last year’s playoff series against the Pens. That’ll be a tough line to contain for sure.
Could this be the last game we ever see Vanek in a NYI jersey? There are rumors that he could get traded in the next 24 hours, before the Olympic break trade freeze kicks in. If not, he will most certainly be dealt by the trade deadline in about a month.
I’m excited to see Frans Nielsen tonight. He’s been used as a comparable for Mikael Backlund for years as many around the Nation see him as a player that Backlund could become, a great two-way player that puts up 40-50 points. I haven’t seen Nielsen play much and I’m interested to see if his playing style mirrors Backlund’s.
SUM IT UP
Tonight features a match-up of two teams that sit in a similar position in the standings (near the bottom). However, the Islanders are several years into a rebuild and are showing the new rebuild Flames exactly what not to do to become great again. The Islanders’ first line has some significant fire power and if the Flames can contain that line they could be sitting pretty. A win in regulation tonight would make the Flames 6-1-0 in their last seven and, consequently, only one point behind the Islanders in the standings.