Both Brent Thompson and Dave Stickney had their dogs in the room today. Scooter Vaughan walked in, saw them both running around with Jack Gallant, and asked the only logical question: “Where are we right now?”
Good question. After 76 games, it’s over, earlier than we ever could’ve imagined in November or even most of December. Five players — Kael Mouillierat, Johan Sundstrom, Matt Carkner, Scott Mayfield and Ryan Pulock — will be on the Island tomorrow (they were still in town today); my impression from a distance was that Kevin Poulin (who said he felt fine today, no problems; just precautionary to sit out the third yesterday after the collision) was going, too, but the Islanders haven’t announced anything on him.
Was surprised Aaron Ness wasn’t among them; was really surprised Dustin Jeffrey wasn’t. Jeffrey had 23 points in his 20 Bridgeport games. (Plus/minus means precious little, and probably even less for a forward, but plus-14 in 20 games still kind of stands out a bit.) In those 20 games, Alan Quine was 9-10-19; Ness was 2-16-18 to get himself to those milestones we’ve been blogging about for a month. Heaven knows the Islanders have the bodies, but still.
Either way, it’s over here. A wrap-up story will be in the paper tomorrow. Some quotes from the day follow (and some will be in said story).
Here’s what I’ve got for contracts. Corrections welcome.
As of 4/8 (Burroughs), 30 NHL contracts for 2015-16 (2 G, 12 D, 16 F), including Dal Colle and Ho-Sang, who I don’t think count if sent to junior before playing 10 NHL games.
(Numbers in parentheses for signed players are years remaining on the contract; those without numbers are signed only through next season. All signed players are NHL deals unless noted. Lots of help, as you can surely expect, from the lamented CapGeek (RIP, Matthew Wuest) and other sources.)
SIGNED: Jaroslav Halak (3), Johnny Boychuk (7), Calvin de Haan (2), Travis Hamonic (5), Nick Leddy (7), Griffin Reinhart (2), Brian Strait, Josh Bailey (3), Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck (2), Michael Dal Colle (3), Michael Grabner, Mikhail Grabovski (3), Joshua Ho-Sang (3), Nikolai Kulemin (3), Matt Martin, Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome, John Tavares (3)
GROUP 2: Matt Donovan*, Thomas Hickey, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson
GROUP 3: Michal Neuvirth, Lubomir Visnovsky, Eric Boulton, Tyler Kennedy, Colin McDonald
SIGNED: Stephon Williams (2), Kyle Burroughs (3), Jesse Graham (2), Loic Leduc (2), Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech (2), Ryan Pulock (2), Sebastian Collberg (2), Ross Johnston (3), Alan Quine
GROUP 2: Kevin Poulin, Kent Simpson, Kevin Czuczman, Jason Clark, Mike Halmo, Alexandre Mallet, John Persson, Johan Sundstrom
GROUP 3: Matt Carkner (V), Mark Louis, Dustin Jeffrey (V), Kael Mouillierat, Harry Zolnierczyk (V-320)
GROUP 6: Aaron Ness (V-320), Brett Gallant
AHL: C.J. Motte, Mark Nemec, Calder Brooks, Tanner Eberle, Colton Gillies (V), Chris Langkow, Colin Markison, Carson McMillan (V), Mike Pereira, Adam Phillips, Dyson Stevenson, Scooter Vaughan
UNSIGNED DRAFT PICK: Lukas Sutter
*-If I’ve done the math right, Donovan’s a Group 6 if he doesn’t play five playoff games. I haven’t been able to double-check that.
Group 2 players are restricted free agents if given a qualifying offer. The other free agents are all unrestricted. (V) indicates he’ll be a veteran next year by AHL rule. (V-320) means he’ll be a veteran but will qualify as that one exempt player a night with 320 or fewer pro games.
Some thoughts from some of the guys we tracked down. A note again that the introductory questions/comments aren’t verbatim; some paraphrased, some just the general tone of what we were talking about.
Lots of early optimism… what went against you guys? “At the beginning of the season, you always prepare to be the best. Tommer, he did do a good job pushing us, maybe even to the point it was too much at times, but what you’re looking for in a coach is someone who has passion for the game. He has passion. … He tried different ways of coaching, too. Stuff happens.
“For me, now that the season’s over, I’m ready to rest my body and forget about this season a little bit.”
Did you feel like you found a good spot here? “At the beginning of the season, it didn’t seem like it, just being on a PTO until the last two days of the PTO. It was tough to come from being really effective last year to coming into that role. No one knew, the coaches didn’t know who I was. I had to show what kind of player I am and hopefully how effective I could be.”
“It was a tough year. Every time you finish last, it’s kind of hard to take the positives out of it. I mean, I try to be positive, looking at what I’ve done. I think it was a good year. I sometimes tried to do too much, and it backfired on me. It’s hard, you know, with a young team. We made a lot of mistakes.”
What kind of things, doing too much? “I just tried too many options. … I’m thinking too much about the back-door; I’m thinking about the second and third saves. Sometimes you take your focus out.”
“We had a good start. We had a good team. Some call-ups changed a little bit of the dynamic of our team. I thought we had a good team overall. Taking those players out, no one really stepped up to that position. We were just trying to look for it all year.”
“There were a lot of little things along the way that pushed us in that direction. The big thing now is we learned a lot this year. It’s a new year next year. It’s a big summer for everyone. There’ll be more experience coming back next year.”
Those last 20 games: “It just seemed to be going well. They seemed to be falling for me. It’s always fun. I think as a team, we brought it. The work ethic was there. We made a push. It’s a lot of credit to the guys, a lot of character on their part.”
Four years here… “It’s been awesome. I’ve got nothing but the highest regard for this organization. I’ve had a blast for four years. I’ve learned so much. I’ve got nothing but the best to say about the coaching staff, the staff here, Leni, Sticks, everyone here has been great. … I’d love to be back. It’s a great spot.”
Could you have made more of a statement than 8-15-23, plus-14 in 20 games? “I think it went well. Coming into a situation where you know you’re out of the playoffs but you have to find a reason to play: Maybe it’s kind of easier to understand it when you’ve been around a bit, fighting for a contract every year. I tried to come in and make a good impression on the coaching staff, the Islanders brass, see if it’s a fit.”
Is it a good fit, from your side? “I think there’s a good core. It’s a good, young team. ‘Young’ is probably the key word. We had, what, four rookie defenseman, a lot of turnover game to game — I think it’s tough. It’s a tough league to win in. You have to be ready to play every night. You have to know it’s going to be tough to play. over the last 20 games, I think we learned how to compete; we learned how to be more consistent.”
No flow to this season from the injuries? “I started off the year injured. Right after Christmas, a new injury: five weeks off. It’s been a learning year as well, my first year over here. I’m learning the game a little more, the style.”
Adapting to that style: “For sure, I did. I had a lot more confidence with the puck. … My confidence in the shoulder is getting better and better every day here. I didn’t even think about it the last few games.”
Goal for the summer: “Be bigger and stronger. The last three summers I haven’t really (been able) to do anything with the arm, with the shoulder surgery last year. I’m looking forward to a real summer.”
“It was a tough year for me, obviously. Finding consistency to my game, being in and out of the lineup with different injuries, coming back from one, going out and getting another one. Being injured and watching the team struggle put a lot of stress on me. You feel like you should be out helping the guys. Next year’s a new year.”
“I don’t know what the plans are for the summer yet. Season’s over; I’m going to go home, get bigger and stronger. No matter where I am next year, my focus is on that right now.”
“I think I’ve come a long way from my rookie year. I took a lot of experience from that. I thought I did a pretty good job showing I could play at a high level in this league.”
The season, team-wise: “It was a bit of a roller coaster at times, with the highs and lows, ups and downs. … It was a good group, a solid locker room.”
Looking at it from the end here: Would you change anything? “From a structural standpoint, no, game preparation. At the end of the day, maybe, the chemistry, as few little things like that.” (They’ll look back as a staff and evaluate: Today was more individual review than team review) “Obviously special teams will be a topic of conversation. What can we do better? If you want to take anything, the penalty kill’s one thing.”
You’ve won a championship as a coach, won a division here: What was going through this year like for you, personally? “This year was my first year has a head coach going through this. It was a learning year. … The nine-game streak, could I have attacked that differently, earlier? That’s something to evaluate as well. But when you look at the season, beginning to end, there are definitely pieces, say, could we have handled them a different way? Maybe we could’ve.”
On development: “Looking from individual players’ perspective, I thought the staff did a great job.”