This is the story of the 2021 New York Islanders hockey season. And maybe the 2024 Islanders season. And possibly the 2027 Islanders season.
The 2021 New York Islanders season on the surface was an excellent run. With a shortened regular season, we won’t spend too much time discussing the day by day or month by month progress of the team. That was not the goal of the Islanders. They were built for the postseason. Rather, we will explore two aspects of the regular season that helped shape the Islanders postseason, and will help shape both the near and distant future.
I’m sure you can predict that one event for consideration would be the Anders Lee injury. Lee’s torn ACL was a giant setback for a team that struggles greatly with offense- especially the powerplay, which is the most important aspects to Lee’s game.. This setback also hurt Matt Barzal as not only did he lose a twenty goal scoring wing, but that wing was immediately replaced with a two goal scoring wing. The decision to play Leo Komarov on the first line of the New York Islanders is absolutely the biggest NHL mystery of the 2021 regular season or postseason.
The next aspect of the regular season I wanted to discuss were the trade deadline acquisitions. Adding Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac, and Brayden Coburn was the equivalent of adding Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri was the only player of those three to make any significant impact due to having two excellent playoff rounds. You can point to Zajac preventing a goal during the playoffs as maybe something worthwhile as well, but ultimately in acquiring Zajac and convincing the New Jersey Devils to retain salary on both players, the cost to the Islanders was a first round pick – something they have not had a lot of in the last two years. More on this later.
The main focus of an Islander retrospective needs to be on the postseason. The series against the Pittsburgh Penguins it was fantastic. It was enjoyable, it was exciting, and if Pittsburgh had competent goaltending they might have won that series. When Josh Bailey is lighting you up for goals you know you’ve got goalie issues. Personally, I did not expect Pittsburgh to win that series and made it known to everyone I could that the Islanders would win that series in six games. If only there was sports betting in New York…
The Boston series was a bit tougher for me to predict as I didn’t see much of Boston during the regular season except against the Islanders. After watching two games of the series I was fully confident that the Islanders would win because Boston is a one line team, even with the addition of Taylor hall. Boston’s time is clearly fading away. Their title was a decade ago. Getting rid of Zdeno Chara was just one of the many required dismantling moves that the team will need to make in order to stay competitive. Boston has to rebuild their forward ranks as even with Hall they had no effective line after the first one.
the Islanders returned to the Eastern Conference finals, site of last years single handed dismantling and manhandling by Victor Hedman. And to make it worse, this time Tampa would have the services of Steven Stamkos, who had missed last year’s playoffs against the Islanders due to injury.
Was this series closer than last year’s series? Yes. absolutely. Did the Islanders perform marginally better than they did last year? Yes, as they played in seven games this year instead of 6. But there was something about the way that series ended that left a bad taste in my mouth. That being the final 16 goals of the series, 13 of which were scored by Tampa. That is an overwhelmingly oppressive statistic.
Shockingly the Islanders were two and two in that span, as the first two of those 16 came after the Islanders built a three goal lead in game 4, ad needed an amazing play at the end of the game to keep Tampa from hitting virtually empty net. This was followed by the worst playoff loss in franchise history in Game 5. The Islanders needed overtime to win Game 6, only to be shut out for a second time in a 5 days in a game seven defeat off of a power play goal, except the team with the power play didn’t score the goal. This is nothing new to any Islander fan that watched that series. They knew that the Islanders were the underdogs just like they were in the first two rounds, but it’s something entirely different to be the underdogs against the Champions.
Against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Islanders saw a multitude of players stepping up on different nights to be heroes. And that’s kind of a problem. When a team is relying on Scott Mayfield for game tying goals and Matt Martin for game winning goals? There’s a failure in the execution of your top six forwards. I do understand that Tampa Bay has a perennial Norris trophy candidate on defense and a former Norris trophy candidate on defense as well as an up and coming young defenseman who is already very good making up half of their blue line, but not everyone on the Islanders is guarded by a Norris trophy defenseman.
Take, for instance, Islanders forward JG Pageau. Pageau is the Islanders third line center but just a season ago he was the Ottawa Senators first line center. Pageau was not often facing Norris trophy winning defenseman, even though Pageau has in done such in the past as a 1C. Pageau had zero goals against Tampa Bay.
Kyle Palmieri also did nothing offensively against Tampa Bay in either goals or assists despite two strong postseason series against Pittsburgh and Boston. Travis Zajac did nothing in any scoring category at all against Tampa unless you count plus minus as a scoring category, to which he was minus 3. Those three players we’re not facing Norris trophy defenseman and yet they did nothing. if you want people to step up and be heroes from unusual places, a good place to look would be from guys you acquired in trades who were top line players on other teams. And also, Travis Zajac.
Why does this matter? Because in acquiring both Pageau and Palmieri the Islanders gave up multiple draft picks. Three picks for Pageau, and 2 picks and 2 prospects for Palmieri. And while it’s true that the Islanders went to the conference finals in both of those seasons, if one scans the Islanders roster and looks at the ages of the players in the top six they threw out against Tampa Bay, you’ll notice that when the next time this team takes ice only two of their top 6 is on the right side of 30. Speaking of a top 6, let’s address that now.
The Islanders first line of Mat Barzal, Jordan Eberle and Leo Komarov combined for four goals. Three of those goals came off the stick of Barzal, and zero of those goals came off of the stick of Leo Komarov. This begs to ask the question “How is a player who only has two goals in 60 career playoff games on the first line of a team that you expect to win the Stanley Cup?”
There is no good answer to that question. A better question would be “Say there was a player you could have rotated in to that spot who was one of your leaders in power play production during the regular season. Would you do it at the expense of the guy that doesn’t score?” The reality is that there was a better option, but the stubbornness of a defense first coach who refused to consider that option on any meaningful level ultimately diminished the production of every other player on that first line.
Now am I saying fire Barry Trotz? Not at all. Without Trotz this team doesn’t make the playoffs, nevertheless the Eastern Conference finals. But can you question Trotz and his decision making process? 100% absolutely yes. Trotz even gave us evidence of his thinking when he pulled Semyon Varlamov out of goal against Pittsburgh to let NHL rookie but very experienced goaltender Ilya Sorokin take over goaltending duties. All Sorokin did was win every game he played against Pittsburgh, to be mothballed after one bad game versus Boston. Who scored by the second shot of every game in which they faced Varlamov.
Let’s look at that second line. The production of Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier and Brock Nelson combined equaled the output of Matthew Barzal by himself. While I’m not expecting much production from a fourth line I won’t forget that Matt Martin had the game winning goal in game 4, and that in seven games line 4 scored one less goal than lines two and three combined. I guess line 4 didn’t face elite defenders. Oh, they did?
By the way, isn’t the second line of a conference finals team supposed to be excellent? Yep. Wouldn’t you expect any team going to the conference finals to at least have two lines? We certainly know Tampa had two lines because after the Islanders finally stopped the first line from scoring in every game of the series, a different line scored. That Brayden Point’s individual output on Tampa was more than half of the Islanders team output in goals is a pressing issue.
Not to beleaguer the playoffs any more than I have to but I do want to come up with one final point regarding the 2021 season and end of the Islanders playoff run. Could the Islanders have beaten Tampa Bay? A fair question. The Islanders had a dominant game one in Tampa, the Islanders lost game three by a goal, and the Islanders lost game 7 by a goal.
Of course the Islanders also won game one by a goal, game four by a goal, and game 6 by a goal in overtime. Also game four will be remembered for the Islanders almost completely blowing a three goal lead without a superhuman play by Ryan Pollack. If Tampa scores in that game 4 at that point in time I would bet my house at the Islanders lose in overtime. There would just be too much momentum after coming back from such a huge deficit.
So when we come back to the question could the Islanders have beaten Tampa Bay , my answer is in two parts. One part is an old theory that I have that is still 100% right to this day , and the other one is a theory I developed about seven games ago in the Islander season. The first theory- that a team with Josh Bailey in your top 6 will never go to a Stanley Cup finals- is now both 100% correct and on a 13 year “Dan is right“ streak.
The second part of that answer is this- if Leo Komarov is your answer to replacing Anders Lee at wing, you will never make it to a Stanley Cup final. That was the theory I developed with the intense research f watching Komarov play 19 games on the first line in the playoffs and never score a goal. Which was predictable, because last year we watched him play 17 playoff games on a third line and only score one goal against weaker defensive competition. So if you factor in Komarov competing against better defenseman that one would become zero. In Komarov’s Islander career he has two playoff goals in 44 games, going one, one, 0 for those three entire post seasons. 1,1,0. Komarov’s new nickname? Binary.
The next part in this retrospective is the what’s next section. The 2021 Islanders already have a glimpse of what’s next thanks to the 2020 Islanders. After the 2020 game 6 loss to Tampa in the conference finals, the Islanders had to part way with Devon Toews from their defense and also were gifted with the injury retirement of Johnny Boychuk just to hold the remaining players together.
The Islanders face a steeper cliff this offseason. The Islanders have eight players who need new contracts. Some of these eight players are clearly replaceable, such as Travis Zajac, Michael Dal Calle or Andy Greene. Even if all those are ejected from the team? That’s not much of a savings as those players weren’t making that much money.
Then there comes the hard questions. Casey Cizikas is a UFA. Kyle Palmieri is a UFA. Both were key in this Islanders run until they ran into Tampa Bay. The question you have to ask is “are these players worth the money- which for both of them will be north of $4 million per year- to come back and if facing Tampa Bay in the playoffs do absolutely nothing again?”
On this question I would say one of those players is definitely worth keeping and that would be Kyle Palmieri. No offense to Casey Cizikas. He has been a lifelong Islander, an extra hard player, a guy with a tainted back story who came here kept his head down and worked hard to make himself rich. And if he wants one last contract making big money in his career? God bless him. Let him go and play 60 games out of 82 for some other team for $4 million . And if whoever that team is shows up in a conference finals, understand that Cizikas will not score a goal, as he has no goals in 13 conference finals games. He only scores about 9 per regular season anyway.
I’d rather see a Blake Coleman take a spot on this team- a guy w cup experience, a gritty game, 20 goals seasons, and did I mention the very recent cup experience? Remember how vast the changes were to the Islanders culture with the acquisition of Stanley Cup winners Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk?
The next two players that are restricted free agents are must sign players. Why? Because they are under 30 and the team still has some control on what they get paid and how long their contracts are. This means that they can be had on some level of a discount compared to being on the open market. Anthony Beauvilier and Adam Pelech our players that are key to the Islanders future. They’re young, there is still a level of control over them, and frankly the team is barren of prospects, which gets to the next point in the what’s next section- which players to protect in the expansion draft.
Personally? If you’re making more than $3 million for the Islanders and if you’re over 30 you would be exposed in the expansion draft. The only player in that criteria I would even consider keeping is Anders Lee. Lee is the team captain and he is a productive player, but he’s also coming off of a major injury and isn’t getting younger. Also it’s the type of injury that could make you slower, and Lee’s game was already pretty slow. In short, if Lee was exposed, would anyone even take him for $7 million a year for the next half decade?
Ideally the Islanders would negotiate a trade with Seattle in which they would send a predetermined player to Seattle for salary cap relief and maybe add an additional asset of a third round graph pick, or even a second round draft pick. Why? Because lately the Islanders have showed no regard for draft picks. They are absolutely a win now team , as our discussion of 67% of the top two lines are players 30 and over. And that trade away the future for the now problem? That problem will fully reveal itself fully when in two years Brock Nelson, Andres Lee, and whatever is left from these 30 year olds are slower and there’s nothing immediately there to replace them. GM Lou Lamiorello is already on that path, and it seems can not be stopped despite common sense, so why not go all in?
One thing I kept hearing during these playoffs is that Tampa Bay was cheating on the salary cap. Did Tampa cheat the cap? No. They exploited a rule that let them accumulate a $99 million dollar payroll. Another team that also took advantage of that rule for almost $10 million dollars? The New York Islanders. If you think Tampa cheated the cap, then so did the Islanders. Some say that if you ain’t cheatin, you ain’t trying. I’m OK with that.
Barry Trotz is on record saying that this team was special, and will look different next year. You have to expect that based on the expansion draft, the frozen salary cap, and the inevitable decline of aging players or injured players. However, let’s talk about how Tampa Bay handled that exact same situation very recently.
A Tampa Bay Sidestory in How to Create Success
In the 2003-04 season, Tampa Bay’s young forwards Vincent Lecavlier, Brad Richards, Martin St Louis and defenseman Dan Boyle led Tampa to their first cup. After a lockout and a few unsuccessful playoff runs, Tampa traded away Richards. The team did not play well and ended up drafting 1st overall in 2008. While Islanders fans cheered over Josh Bailey, Tampa Bay was taking Steven Stamkos. They traded away Boyle after finishing year one of a deal he had signed for 6 years. The reward for that trade? Drafting Victor Hedman.
As the Lightning improved as a team? They made a move that was brilliant- the bought out the contract of Vincent Lecavilier. Not because of his play, but because his cap hit of over $7 million a year until 2020 would hurt the team’s development at that time.
When St. Louis demanded a trade to the Rangers, Tampa took back Ryan Callahan and gave him a healthy contract extension. Tampa Bay returned to the Stanley Cup finals that season. And when Callahan started to deteriorate, traded him to Ottawa for almost $3 million of cap savings.
Tampa traded starting goalie Ben Bishop for cap concerns, replacing him with 2012 first round pick Andrei Vasilevskiy for a much smaller paycheck and a return in talent. They ignored a 2015 trade request from top offensive prospect Jonathan Drouin, but complied in 2017 after he proved his value in the NHL. The return? Montreal Canadiens top defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev.
When 2011 2nd round pick Nikita Kucherov had a breakout season? The Lightning took his breakout linemate Vladilav Namestnikov and traded him to the New York Rangers for Ryan McDonough.
In short, back in 2014, Tampa came off a few seasons of successful playoff advancements including a Stanley Cup championship, and their management looked at their asked themselves “can they do it again?” And the front office looked at that team and said no. The result?
A 2019 Presidents Trophy, a 2020 Stanley Cup championship, and a 2021 Championship defense. And the willingness to trade any player at any time to any place for pretty much hopeful returns, as no player is bigger than the team.
Even in building this 2021 team, Tampa Bay acquired players to put on that injured reserve to exceed the salary cap. On purpose! And what are those teams demand for you taking millions of actual dollars away from their ownerships during a pandemic? They demanded that you also take their draft picks. So when acquiring $4 million of cap spacee from Ottawa, Tampa Bay also acquired the second round draft pick from Ottawa for that service, meaning Tampa Bay will be drafting somewhere in the twice somewhere in the between 30 and 35 in the upcoming NHL draft. Or maybe bunching those two picks to move up into the top 20 in the NHL draft.
As an Islander fan, I’d like to see the misery of John Tavares suffering as he makes $11 million a year in Toronto. The thing I love to pick on is at Toronto has invested over $40 million of salary cap space more than 50% of the salary cap goes to four players. Toronto uses that for four forwards all of which are talented scorers. I had this theory that bas based on Toronto, which was that you cannot invest half your cap in four players and expect to be a championship team.
Which it was why to my surprise it was to my surprise that Tampa has about 50% of the salary cap invested in four players. The goalie Vasilevsky, maybe the best goalie in the world, Victor Hedman – one of the best defensive players in the world , Steven Stamkos- a team leader and who’s been there from the lows to highs, and Nikita Kucherov, whose 9.5 million this year was hidden under the injury clause of the salary cap to allow attempt to create the first 9.5 of the 18 million or so dollars they violated cap space with. So I guess Toronto’s mistake wasn’t paying for guys half a cap it was paying one position half a cap.
What do I share this story? Because if the Islanders do not break into champions next season, it would be time to sell high on your “core” players, and to redefine what the core is. You make the core players Pelech, Pulock, Barzal, Beauvillier, Sorokin. You give legitimate auditions to Bellows, Wahlstrom and Dobsons . Auditions like actual time on ice playing. You try out the kids you have in your system like Bolduc, Wilde, Jenkins, to see what you have. If you’re not willing to do that? Then you trade those players to fill immediate and long term needs.
If you don’t sell high? Look at the shitshow that happened in Chicago. Or the shitshow that happened in Los Angeles. Or the shitshow happening in Pittsburgh. With good management, good scouting, good drafting, good trading, and good coaching? It seems that the Tampa way is the way to not get bogged down in the past at the expense of the future. And different than the Oiler way, where players get paid AFTER they achieve something.
My foil on Twitter is a man that #IslesREealsits call Kool-Aid Rob. KAR will throw his remote control into a wall over a lost game, and maybe even a lost faceoff. To me, that is a respectable fan. But recently KAR said “This season is over. We don’t have to worry about the roster again until October.“ For a guy that loves hockey so much? That is a horrible take. Do fans influence a team managements decisions? I would argue yes. Remember all the clamoring for Miroslav Satan to play with Alexei Yashin? Remember the calls for the Islanders to acquire Michael Peca after his personal strike against Buffalo? I love that when fans clamored for Thomas Vanek, they got Thomas Vanek. Thankfully Vanek isn’t good at betting and turned down 49 million guaranteed dollars when that contract was offered in 2015, because it would have run out last Friday.
But I don’t blame KAR for his view. His view is issue I call the mistake of the fan that has never seen success. The fan that has to root for individuals because the team was so bad. I was there back in the day for Mariuz Czerkawski dropping 35 goals playing with Ted Donato and Mats Lindrgren, so I get it. Sometimes fans like individual players so much that they can’t bear to see them traded.
However, I would argue that those are not true fans of a team.
When a fan base looks at the success of successful teams, they see teams often trade popular players for other players. Case in point- the New York Islanders . When the Islanders were moving toward a Stanley Cup they traded Billy Harris and Dave Lewis- 2 popular players- for Butch Goring. Hard to argue about the results there.
When the Charles Wang Islanders were looking to be respected? They traded future Hall of Fame defenseman Zdeno Chara to acquire Alexei Yashin. Sometimes you trade players people like. Players know that. Which is why players will always tell you it’s a business. When fans wish players would take a home team discount? They are not thinking about the players perspective at all.”Stay here for less money, which makes me more tradable?” Even if a player likes a location, a smaller deal will help insure that it’s a temporary visit.
In fact, the last Islanders player to take a home team discount was Jordan Eberle, who took less money than his previous contract to stay with the others. And the fans now want to see him traded. Keep that in mind when the Casey Cizikas negotiations happen…and expect CC to have a different crest next season. Tampa Bay has becomes MORE successful with frequent purges of expensive plyers from rosters. Good drafting helps that along, so maybe don’t be so hasty in trading away those first and second round picks?
The reality is, the Islanders are a win now team. But winning just one more playoff game than last season? That’s not the type of growth you need. The growth the Islanders needed this year was to make it to a Stanley Cup finals. If they lose in the Stanley Cup, THAT’S the learning experience. Losing to the same team in consecutive years in playoffs? They already got that lesson.
And as KAR points out, its really hard to go to three consecutive Eastern Conference finals. Odds are they won’t get there again. And if that’s the case? That’s when you 100% know it’s time to sell.
The problem with selling however, is twofold. Fold one is- will Barry Trotz coach a rebuilding team, or is he too far along in life to you want to start from scratch? Trotz has a history of not playing young players in important situations, which can stunt their growth in the short term. See the handling of Noah Dobson in the 2020 postseason, and the handling of Whalstrom in the 2021 post season, and the overall handling of Keifer Bellows. The Islanders do not have time for short term growth stunting.
The other aspect with this team is the brand new arena that opens at Belmont in time for the 2021- 2022 season. If after one year at Belmont the Islanders go into a rebuild, the owners are going to shit a brick. They want that arena full for 40 years. The only way that’s going to happen? An annually competitive product. And the only way a competitive product is going to happen annually is with honest raw player assessments and frequent turnover of non key players.
So to conclude this very long 2021 season wrap up, as the New York Islanders are seeing their championship window closing, they have this one off season to short run redefine their team and gear up for one more deep playoff run, and hopefully stay healthy to have a full team coming into their first postseaon at Belmont. After that? Having not had a first round draft pick in two years? And the one from three years ago already a bust? They better stay friendly with Josh ho sang, because in the long run they may actually need him.
This article was inspired by the insurrectionist terrorist raid on the capital on January 6, 2021. While I have never tried to overthrow my country or kill the Vice President, I remember a time where I too could have been considered a terrorist. It was 1991, and I was terrorizing a giant spider web.
A web? No, THE web. Where does one find a human sized spider web? At Spaceplex, of course. What is Spaceplex? Guess the Web will wait a second.
Spaceplex was a place borne out of my 6 year old head that came to life when someone not aged six used actual money to invest in making a giant ass mancave. And no, not a cave when men went to see giant asses…that’s existed for ages. So what am I talking about?
Spaceplex itself was located somewhere in St James or Smithtown. I don’t know where exactly, but I do know that we used to hang a left off of 347 when we saw the Taco Bell by a Cadillac dealer. I’m sure somehow today that sentence is both cultural appropriation and imperialism.
But what awaited inside of this Spaceplex? You walked in through a funky futuristic feeling tunnel that on occasion dropped some dry ice to create a smoke filled entry for customers, like you were a rock star about to hit the stage. And then?
A gigantic room full of arcade cabinets. A big area for miniature golf. A dark, creepy room for laser tag. A small interior amusement park complete with a 20 foot tall rubber band spider web call….THE WEB. A sports game area, like soccer or some shit. Nobody cared about soccer in 1990. Air hockey. Dome hockey. Pinballs. Lastly, a relatively inexpensive snack bar full of Elio’s pizza and warmed up nachos, with maybe a dirty water dog to balance out a diet designed to create volcanic spastic colons.
Why did I love such a commercially minded, mildly dirty, poorly snack-accommodated place? For the record, I did love Spaceplex. I loved Spaceplex so much that I gave it a pet name, like when you name a pet because you love it or when you make up a cute nickname for your girlfriend before she ruins your life.- Spaceflux. Why? Because flux can mean flowing, which I felt years before I read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, but it can also mean abnormal discharge from your body, like shitting and pissing yourself when you die. Which you do, in case you didn’t know that. Know that when you watched grandma die, while you were squirting tears, she was squirting piss all over herself. Get that shot in your next dead relative selfie, you sick fuck. Unlike your shitty grandma, calling it Spaceflux means I died and went to heaven.
Never have I ever been to a place that fed into my childhood regarding entertainment choices, as well as my love for technology by having the latest games (THEY HAD GAMES WITH MOTHERFUCKING POLYGONS! POLYGONS!!!), plus the time honored passing of the gauntlet from when older kids would push me away from a game to steal my quarter to a time when I would place my foot on an unlucky 12 year old and shove punt his unsuspecting body across the arcade so that a buddy can take over his game as we both laughed our asses off. There was no waiting in line. Fuck them, this is survival of the person willing to push a 15 year old face first into something else over a game token. Allegedly.
And the games? What games were there to draw you in?
So, about that Web. There was a giant elastic banded spider web called “The Web.” How creative. The elastic bands were those big black bands that you use to strap shit to the roof of your car. Except longer. Which allowed you to use them as a sling shot that didn’t even need a rock. The rubber band quality and size allowed you to pull the strap back and just let it fly, effectively slapping the shit out of whomever was unlucky enough to be climbing up the 20 foot tall bungee nightmare when you let loose with hell’s wrath.
Those webs also let you launch yourself with extra momentum downwards if you pushed yourself into the web and let it sling you towards your target, WWE rope style. This led to flying kicks and torpedo like headbutts that were body numbing. That lack of solid wall on occasion also led to an evasion of a predictable attack, when you leaned back and avoided a punch to the dick, which usually ended up devastating some poor bastard who was attempting to use the Web for a legitimate purpose like a normal human being.
There was one instance when a friend of mine dove from the top of the Web, somehow managed to avoid ANY of the rubber band webs, and landed SPLAT on top of some poor kid who was coming in to do something stupid, like enjoy himself. My buddy gets up and looks at the kid. The kid was mushed into the canvas topped spongy floor, totally unconscious. He asked the kid “You OK?” The kid doesn’t reply. Reply? Shit, the kid doesn’t move, or even twitch. “YOU’RE OKKKKK” he declares for the kid as he tussles the kids hair in a friendly, big brotherly way, then heads back to the top of the perch.
After a while, the kid slowly rotated himself and spent two minutes crawling back the ten feet to the Web’s exit. He was definitely NOT OK. He’s probably missing a spleen today. Allegedly.
Did I mention that Spaceplex had an indoor mini golf course? And my friends and I treated that golf course like Thunderdome and Polo fucked and had a kid. We’d hit the golf ball as hard as we could at something, which was the excuse to run full speed and use the lead putter smash the shit out of whatever alleged space aged materials they made the golf course out of. Which looked like that hard foam insulation they use on hot tubs. I know this because we broke half of the course. Allegedly.
Spaceplex had this game called Bowlingo. Fucking Bowlingo. It was a tiny bowling alley with these small pins on strings, and a softball sized bowling ball. Which was perfect for overhanding. Truth be told, I’m pretty good at throwing shit. I did repeat my Bowlingo talent when my son was at a 3 year olds birthday party at Fun Zone on Route 110 in Amityville, NY. After bragging to the other dads about how as a misguided teen I was Thanos to Bowlingo’s universe and them calling me full of shit, I overhanded the ball into the equivalent of right between the eyes of the game. The lights on BOTH lanes went nuts, and all 20 of the pins dropped to the lane. I smiled proudly. Twenty with one blow- just like all of their wives! SKANKS!
There was a laser tag arena. I never went in there, just because I know that in the dark? With a blunt object? I wouldn’t have shot anyone. I would have pistol whipped the fuck out of people I snuck up on and clubbed like a baby seal. Or clubbed like Captain Caveman. Or clubbed like I had bub. And if I got shot? Club that fuck to show him up. Basically, I avoided laser tag for the lawsuits and assault charges that would have undoubtedly happened.
The pictures that I’m including are here for the sake of veracity. All of these pics were developed at a Photomat and were scanned and edited. Suck dick to anyone trying to figure out who is who, you fucktards. This action breaks my general rule to not photograph alleged criminal activity, but I wanted to capture this moment in life between being a teen and an adult- even though we were all legal adults- because I think we all knew what was coming down the road was going to be a different world. There were signs of this already popping up with PC gaming at early stages and 32 bit consoles coming down the line that would make arcades replaceable. And also, we’d have more income, so we had more choices of where to be awful human beings and cause violence. Allegedly.
Besides, I don’t think it’s Spaceplex anymore, and the statute of limitations must be over by now, so fuck it. I’m doing this for an historic reason!
The other shit there, like the sports area? I didn’t give a fuck about that. I think there were bumper cars too, but once you start driving a real car, a bumper car is the driving equivalent of a limp dick. Unless of course you’re smashing into other cars with aggressive purpose and launching glasses off of people’s faces. That’s always funny.
And if security ever caught wind and came to confront us? We’d beat the piss out of them and take off. After all, we weren’t locals, but we were a military draft aged mob. And fortunately, security on most occasions recognized that- because they themselves were like 16, and just asked us to be cool. Which never worked because we were terrorists. You can’t negotiate with terrorists.
You may say “It sounds like you and your friends were asshole bullies.” Well, that’s revisionist history. Judging us by today’s standards? Sure, we’re terrible. But that’s because kids today lack the balls to stand up to someone and defend themselves live and in person. Am I proud of being that terrible? Yes.
Why? Because no one involved was so life rocked and disturbed at what happened to that they didn’t go home, got behind a screen, and use social media to henpeck someone else so badly that they went out and killed themselves? That’s a win. Yet somehow people today see that electronic onslaught as TOTALLY NORMAL BEHAVIOR.
If those two worlds collided? Like, I’d see you at a urinal taking a leak and push my foot against your ass until your junk may or may not hit the porcelain. Then you’d go home, gather a bunch of twits, and start an online barrage, attack my job and company, try to dox me, harass my family, demand attention for how much of a victim you while you actively try to financially ruin someone’s life with no regard to generational impacts, and demand a bank holiday for your suffering. Because you are powerless.
Think about that logic. Taking a quarter is bad. Howabout taking a life? That’s good! I can write a “feel bad for me” post, or be even more shallow and take a frownie selfie. But by the standards from the age of Spaceplex? That person is a fucking piece of shit. Everyone would bully the fuck out of a person like that. Or more likely beat their ass. Often.
The bullying we did hurt for maybe a moment, because it was in the moment. It wasn’t premeditated. All we did was mildly embarrass, peer to peer. But now? Social media is forever. That person that you called a cunt on line? One day they’ll hear from their grandkids “Grandma, were you as big of a stupid cunt as Jessica said? Because she said you were the biggest stupidest cunt ever.”
There was one time that I thought it would be a good idea to bring a girl on a date to Spaceplex. Honestly, that was VISIONARY on my part. Trying to look cool by showing how good you are at video games is a somewhat recent phenomenon. Probably because it’s only recently that guys started getting rich playing video games. Vaginas still smell money as fast as Tecuichpotzin changed her name and became Christian after Hernando Cortez killed her husband Cuauhtémoc right in front of her, making him king of the Aztecs. But when I did that? Not kill Aztecs, but showed mad arcade skills? I got a handjob that felt like I was getting beat off by a construction worker. Who knew bankers massaged their hands with dick skin breaking pumice stones? And every Aztec hates me. What the fuck.
And yes, you all need to learn more history. #MeToo is just an excuse.
Spaceplex was so popular in its time that someone started a corporation to sell stock in the concept, probably to take advantage of the dot com bubble. It was so popular that people who lived 40 minutes away- that’s 20 miles in Suffolk, 10 in Nassau- heard of it before there was such thing as an internet. It was so popular that some dude claimed he kidnapped a girl from there and kept her in a dungeon. Of course he didn’t. If my crew saw shit like that happen? We would have made him bite the curb, then throat fuck him with those horrible 75 cent hot dogs until he shit his pants to death. There is no reason to show mercy to a kid toucher.
Like all good things, Spaceplex came to an end. Most would argue that things like the Sony Playstation and the Sega Dreamcast and even the Atari Jaguar– the original 32-64 bit generation of home video games is what did the arcade in. After all, why spend $50 at the arcade when you can spend $50 at home and own it, or rent it at Blockbuster for a few bucks and test drive a game? Also, who spends $50 at an arcade? Dave and Busters, put your hand down!
The end of Sapceplex wasn’t exactly the end of Spaceplex. It happens that Spaceplex had a child. It was on 347 by the Smithhaven Mall and was called Sports Plus. They had a sheet of ice, an arcade, I think some food, and an indoor roller coaster. But no Web. This was an upgrade in some ways on Spaceplex, except for one issue. The issue was that I was older and in a different frame of mind.
By then I was old enough to have a somewhat real job. And some money. And was at an age where I could get into places that served booze, where it was way harder to find 15 year olds and their tokens.
I think Sports Plus made it all the way to 2007, but I’m going by this account. Today it’s a Whole Foods and I think a gym. But I bet one of the reasons Sports Plus was built where it was built? Because Spaceplex broke the ground of an arcade without a shopping mall attached to it, and it was a mile away. Look at Sports Plus stealing a customer base, just to piss it away.
A few years ago I was in the general area of Spaceplex and I decided that fuck it, I was going to see what was there failing to live up to its standards. What shit took away that sexy bitch of a destination of my youth. It turns out, it was pretty much more of the same. It became a sports arena of some sort, which Spaceplex also had to an extent. But for me, the absolute best part of the visit was the entrance to the place, which was largely the same from my times there. It took me back to the good old days of being able to get away without being recorded as a complete asshole.
My reaction seeing this superlative sacred site some 20 years later? Truth be told, my eyes welled up. For what, though? Maybe for the passing of my youth. Maybe for the time that has moved on and the changes that brings. Maybe for the inability to destroy someone else’s shit without being filmed by assholes with cell phones or assholes that installed security cameras to stupidly protect their expensive stuff. But I totally teared up. It could have been for missing the closeness of youthful bonds between friends that you have at that time in life.
Or maybe it was for the time in history before we all lived on social media. You know, where anyone and everyone can gain a level of assholiness that was formerly reserved for the people that made you look at photo albums of the shit they did and you didn’t? Then or now, that shit is absolutely fucking annoying. Fuck your pictures of food and vacations. No one wants to see that shit. Not even your kids, and they were there.
While you can never truly go home, you can definitely look back with nostalgia for the good times that you had in your life, and with the proper context of history behind them. Like the time where a place became as sexy as the wild west because it had no closed circuit TV due to the owner being a criminal himself and not wanting to get caught, all at the expense of the massacre of a plastic shitty golf course.
I had done searches on the subject and found so little available that I was compelled to share. I hope one thing came across above all else in this: Spaceplex was and is such a wonderful memory from my life. Despite the bravado of the stories of mayhem, it really was a place where a teenager with a pocket full of change could go and laugh their ass off with their buddies. Those memories literally forced me to write this history. My hope is that others who may have stories share them, as I shared my alleged tales. Or maybe even go back and pay a visit, as writing this inspired me to do.
I used to ask if there is a place in the market for a Spaceplex today? Yes, yes there is. But you’d have to build it today, and realize that it will go away. The kids born in the late 1980’s never truly experienced the fun and social activity that was the arcade. Dave and Busters is the only joint that still tries to create the social environment of an arcade while passing that torch to the next generation, but they’ve been running that concept for how many years without it catching on? 20 years? That’s because there’s no soul to Dave and Busters. It’s too corporate. It’s the 50 dollar arcade. I love them, but it’s been years since I’ve been to one.
A PS5 can be used to help cure cancer while you play Borderlands 3. The graphics that the next gen Xbox can produce are just as good as any dedicated arcade cabinet, and you can play it on a 75” flat screen from a reclining leather couch. A coin op arcade game will pale in comparison to both the personal and social utility of that. Anyone 25 and under won’t give a shit about an arcade. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t try.
You can build the next Spaceplex. It needs to be darkish. It needs to be a little mysterious. It needs to have a cross section of classic and modern games that are cool. Technically, it kind of already exists, just not here. But in the end, you have to know it will fail as a solo entity. But maybe, there’s another way.
My idea? Combine the massive number of Long Island home arcade cabinet collectors with the great beer bars on Long Island. Especially now, as the COVID pandemic is taking those places away, but also to team up with the ones that will rise in their places. Creates a network of roving Spaceplexes. Spaceplexi? Make events in multiple localities so everyone can enjoy themselves no matter where they’re from. Support both hobbyists and local businesses!
Sure, there won’t be The Web, which would be a bummer until 9 people threw out their backs trying to relive their youth. Besides, today the web means something entirely different. And the days of 75 cent hot dogs are long gone, just like the days of 90 cent a gallon gas. And of course, that youthful optimism and hopefulness hopefully has already been replaced by a level of happiness and complacency in achievement. But the things that make life enjoyable- friends, fun, and the opportunity to both reminisce and make new memories- does that ever change?
Feel free to leave your memories of Spaceplex below. Or share your suggestions on how to bring it back to life. Or your favorite chicken recipe. It’s all good.
Mathew Barzal is an asshole. I don’t say this with any firsthand knowledge of Barzal as a guy to hang out with. Which is my first indicator of assholism. I’m fun to hang out with. Yet never an offer from MB.
No, my assessment comes from Barzal’s “Me First” attitude. Are you unfamiliar? Let me explain.
On Barzal’s first shift of his first career NHL game, he took a penalty. As that penalty expired, he handled a puck while in the penalty box, leading to his second penalty even before he took the ice. Since he never played hockey ever before until he magically appeared in the NHL, he obviously didn’t know that was a penalty.
Oh, he played for years before that? And knew that was wrong since he was 8? Oh, well then…asshole.
Maybe he was crying because he felt de deserved more playing time than anyone else. As a guy with a two games of NHL experience, that makes sense. In two games played, Barzal was a -2 with 6 penalty minutes. And when asked for his opinion? “I thought I played well.” https://sports.mynorthwest.com/210204/barzal-reflects-on-time-with-islanders-return-to-t-birds/
A year later Barzal was rookie of the year. As was Bryan Berard. Was anyone REALLY impressed with Berard, outside of Mike Milbury’s daughter?
The same year Barzal was named Calder winner? Team captain John Tavares left the Island for Toronto. Tavares was DYING for help on the Garth Snow driven into the ground Islanders. And when he got help? He looked where there was more and had his career year.
And without Tavares? Unlike Tavares, Barzal watched his points per game decline significantly.
Sure, you could blame Barry Trotz and his defense first system for his decline. But Barzal didn’t exactly play defense either, and Trotz benched him for his….SELFISHNESS. Trotz even called him out, a very not Barry Trotz move to make. Which goes to show you how much of an asshole Barzal is.
Fast forward a season later, where Barzal again led his team in scoring….not goals, but at least he is a real playmaker, unlike that overpaid fraud Josh Bailey. So what does one time 20 goal scorer Mat Barzal want?
To be the highest paid player in the NHL.
Ovechkin? Crosby? Doughty? Kane? All champions. Half of them overpaid.
And Barzal feels that 1) he is on the same level and 2) he deserves to get paid as much or more.
For that, I can’t exactly blame Barzal. The NHL has fallen into a pattern of paying very young players with no accomplishments aside of scoring points in the regular season salaries that are highly detrimental to the team that signs them or the overall health of the sport.
Is Buffalo Sabre Jack Eichel worth $10 million before he MADE a playoff series? Connor McDavid $12 million? Matthews $11+m? To borrow from both Moses Malone and Amy Winehouse: No, No, No.
Do they score? Yup. Play a little D? Yup. But do they win? NOPE. So…why pay for not winning?
Do fans buy seats for losing teams, except at Madison Square Garden where it’s a tradition? Pre COVID, hockey draws a lot less fans than more sports. Hockey has a larger revenue share for small market teams than most sports – about 3% of the top level of the cap just for existing – but does that demand winning from those club to keep that funding? $5m is also 10% of the cap if you spend to the floor. Why would a winning team want to give a losing team 10% of a cap unless it ensures you have a patsy to beat ass on?
And what would be worse? The patsy would squander the money. Add the playoff series won by Matthews, McDavid, Eichel, Trouba, Laine, and Barzal. What’s the total? 6? And 3 of those are just from Barzal’s teams.
But who were the heroes in those Islander series?
Brock Nelson. Thomas Greiss. Anthony Beauvillier. And to a lesser extent, Josh Bailey, Devon Toews, and Mathew Barzal.
So, back to a non-prime time, Josh Bailey equivalent player asking to be paid like an all timer. How is that selfish?
To the player, it isn’t. In fact, a player could argue that by gunning for the most money possible, they uplift the salary structure of the entire league. Except we’re seeing that such a premise isn’t true. In fact, it created the era where old timers rode out to the sunset on overpaid contracts, those same guys are getting close to minimum wage deals. Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza come to mind.
Remember the time where the Colorado Avalanche traded for Ray Borque to push them to win a cup? Or one of those #chuk’s in Tampa? Or any other veteran to get a team over the hump?
Now it’s a market where you can’t get a star player at the deadline because you’re tied down to paying kids who could use leadership but the team can’t pay. Even the Islanders acquisition of JG Pageau – a playoff performer for sure- doesn’t mean he was a veteran playoff performer with a pedigree. It means he was available for a trade because Ottawa didbn’t want to pay him, and because he was an unrestricted free agent.
So, how does this all relate to Mat Barzal? Because he is a selfish asshole. After the Islanders went to the Eastern Conference finals and put up a valiant fight versus Tampa Bay? The league knew that the Islanders issue was lack of offense. So lets talk about a tale of two players.
Defenseman Ryan Pulock- a top pairing defenseman on the Islanders- was facing a free agent decision. He chose to sign a short term contract at a reasonable rate. This helped preserve the eastern conference finals team.
But Barzal? FUCK THE TEAM. I WANT MINE. The result? Devon Toews was traded for a pair of draft picks. Toews was Barzal’s regular season overtime buddy. Now that he’s gone? You can absolutely subtract overtime wins from the Islanders lineup. 100% guaranteed. Which affects playoff seeding. Great teammate.
If toews went to Colorado and signed a $7 million contract? Good riddance. But he didn’t. He signed for less than Josh Bailey, and is worth more.
Howabout the unrestricted free agent Mike Hoffman? Hoffman scored goals. Especially on the power play. Hoff and the Islanders shared a mutual interest, but the Islanders could never make an offer to Hoffman because their salary cap was tied up with Barzal’s greed. Hoffman took a Player Try Out in St. Louis because…he wanted to?
And Barzal? The Islanders placed heart and soul guy Johnny Boychuk on the LTIR due to his injuries to create $6 million for Barzal. Add the million Barzal made last season and it would be a $7 million offer to Barzal with a zero gain on the salary cap. And Barzal said no. Costing the Islanders a teammate with which he had chemistry.
In case you’re having trouble keeping score? Barzal’s assholishness cost the Islanders Mike Hoffman, Devon Toews, and all of their cap space. And within 48 hours of training camp, still has left the team in limbo by not accepting up to $9 million dollars.
Now, if the roster change makes theIsles win a cup? It’s not because Barzal cared about the team. It’s because he blackmailed them into trading the roster. If they win a cup, I’d eat half a crow. They won despite the greedy infant.
The last time we had such an insufferable asshole? Money hungry Pat LaFontaine. Maybe the best American born player in NHL history. Wanted to get paid like the best Canadian born player, just without the resume. Did Patty ever win a cup?
Mathew Barzal is a selfish asshole. I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. Here’s a preseason guarantee- without the Islanders making a major move?. They won’t repeat last season. Maybe it’s time to find the Pierre Turgeon we’d need and move on from Barzal. Let him suck a salary cock somewhere else.
A way back in July I had written an article called “Wrong on Brodie,” where I said it was too soon to judge the job BVW has done building the New York Mets in his image, and asked fans to have patience by waiting to see what Brodie Van Waganen will do with his year two before determining if he’s a failure as a GM.
Well, I waited. And it only took a mere three more months to see that as a GM? He’s a failure.
What made me change my mind in a mere three months?
It probably started with the roughly one week span where Yoenis Cespedes decided to quit baseball rather than be paid a paltry few million dollars for two months of work. This was predictable based on the renegotiation of the contract Cespedes signed and never lived up to, up to the end.
The Cespedes situation was a debacle, from the Mets announcing during a game against the Atlanta Braves that Cespedes was missing, as they knew entirely where he was. It was a weird way to throw a player under the bus, and will probably affect how free agents see the Mets organization.
A few days later Marcus Stroman had earned enough service time to be a free agent, and was suddenly afraid of COVID 19 and left the Mets for free agency. Which made me think of Anthony Kay, who is 3-0 in the majors for the Tornoto Blue Jays, and Simeon Woods Richardson, who is working towards the Toronto rotation for 2023. Specifically I was thinking about who Stroman would be pitching for that aren’t the Mets while those two guys were playing for other teams that also aren’t the Mets in the majors.
Edwin Diaz was inconsistent, untradable at the deadline, and is eligible for arbitration next year, and free agency two years after that. Yes he showed improvements over the course of the short season, so I guess we wait another year to see what the Mets have on their hands. And the Seattle Mariners are waiting to see what they have in their hands with 21 year old Jared Kelenic. They already see what Justin Dunn can do as he’s already on their roster.
The Mets moved young pitcher Jordan Humphries for base stealer Billy Hamilton. Hamilton hit an amazing .054 before the Mets waived him. The Chicago Cubs picked him up, where he promptly hit .300.
The Jed Lowrie contract wasted tens of millions of dollars for what, 7 at bats? Who the fuck was his agent?
The mishandling of the Zach Wheeler contract situation ended up really biting the Mets on the ass. Man, wouldn’t Wheeler have looked good instead of the Wacha/Porcello experiment? And who didn’t even give him the respect of giving him a call to discuss the Philadelphia Phillies offer?
There’s also the situation where he threw the Commissioner of Baseball under the bus for suggesting the Mets and Miami Marlins play a game despite the players wanting to join the growing “Black Lives Matter” protests in all of sports. BVW later found out that it was the owners’ idea to take the field, walk off, then take the field and play, when the owners put out their own statements, including misspelling the name of the GM.
The Atlanta Braves released many of their scouts. It would seem that if Brodie was doing his job, they would be working for the Mets already, as the Braves player development is light years ahead of the Mets, and having weapons from a rival organization would be a smart move. Smart move and Brodie? Pfft.
The significant regressions of JD Davis and the often futile at bats of Pete Alonso makes me wonder if going with Carlos Beltran or Luis Rojas as a rookie manager was the best move a team looking to contend for playoffs could have made.
But I guess the coup de grace, at least for me, are results. This roster was constructed by BVW over two years. In a shortened sprint of a season, half of the entire sport made the playoffs. Then there’s Brodie’s Mets. Come get us? More like come on us.
Clearly Brodie needed seasoning somewhere else before he took the reins in a major market like New York. I know the new Mets owner, Steve Cohen, has deep pockets, but I’m sure he doesn’t want to waste millions of dollars by just letting an asset go to waste.
So how can the Mets be creative on the two years left on Brodie’s deal? The organization can demote him, maybe to an assistant to the general manager. Kind of like a secretary. Treat him like Islanders General Manager Lou Lamoriello treated Generally Useless Garth Snow? BVW’s draft philosophes aren’t exactly crazy despite no results so far, but is it a case of a guy who thinks he’s the smartest in the room always taking high school kids and injured college arms? Can he be a subordinate with an ego that attacks the Commissioner of Baseball? Would he be content with negotiating contracts against other agents in the second half of his Mets career?
The Mets have experienced in house candidates. They can easily promote Omar Minaya as GM for a year or two. Minaya has a proven record with attracting free agents, of which there are some quality ones coming up for 2021, such as J.T. Realmuto, Trevor Bauer, Liam Hendriks, and Alex Colome. Minaya has had success in the past with free agents, especially ones with Latin surnames, so that’s something to seriously consider.
The Mets have already begun reshaping their front office. Sandy Alderson is already slated to come in as team president. And time may be on the Mets side as far as potential culture changes? Why? Because BVW’s remaining two years match up with two extremely interesting replacement candidates.
Rumors are Theo Epstein may be done in Chicago. Epstein is in the last year of his contract as Team President and at $10 million for the year, the Cubs may be willing to let him go, as it’s rumored that current Cubs GM Jed Hoyer is ready to step in as his replacement. Even if they let his deal ride, it’s over by October 2021. The question here would be if Epstein would take a GM job, or would he want organizational power that Alderson already has, unless Alderson is a placeholder and a move to get owners approval, as some have suggested. That would mean that roughly by this time next year. Theo needs a job. He sure has one hell of a pedigree in ending title droughts.
Across town, Brian Cashman has 2 years left on his deal at $5 million per year. I assume Cashman will want to complete the deal which would make him the longest tenured Yankee General Manager in the teams’ history. This would also make him a free agent around October 2022, and due for a huge raise above that $5m he makes. Cashman as Mets GM would create a more accountable culture than the Mets presently have, and is a very hands on GM, almost making the coach an unthinking position.
Maybe the Mets go for both? Neither? Only time will tell. Whatever their plans were, I’d strongly recommend that those plans involve removing Brodie Van Waganen from his current job as general manager. He has shows us who he is, and what he does. It’s unimpressive. It’s not what New York deserves. It’s certainly not the results that a guy who just dropped two and a half billion dollars on a team should want. And even if his draft picks hit? It’ll be 2024 before that happens. You want to wait around for that?
And more importantly, do you want to wait around for success? The Wilpons were able to deliver 3 successful teams in the last 18 years. Do you trust their judgement in who they hired that got the Mets and their fans to that point? I was OK saying I was wrong on Brodie after last season. And I’m OK saying that I was wrong at being wrong now. Brodie Van Waganen needs to be removed as General Manager of the New York Mets.
We have a matter to clean up here. There is some kind of debate as to what is more important in the NHL- goals or assists. That some people even make this a conversation shows the desperation they have for you to like a player that they like who doesn’t contribute a lot to their hockey team.
To this question, there really is no debate, if you use your head. To see which is more important, Just look at the scoreboard. There’s no assist board when the Islanders play the Rangers. The only thing that determines an outcomes are goals. And when you have more than the other team, you win.
The assist is a relatively limited stat in its application. For example, there is no way to get an assist in the NFL. If an entire sport can exist without an assist? I’m sure they’re not alone. When football was invented they determined that at a touchdown pass is not an assist for a touchdown reception. Why? I don’t know. But it makes sense. If you disagree, you can dig up the father of football – Walter Camp. Be sure to blow him so his zombified body doesn’t immediately eat your brains, Then ask him why there are no assists, and watch him eat you for wasting the time of the undead just to ask them a stupid question.
The three sports where assists are most common are baseball, basketball and hockey. Baseball assists are unique in that they’re about defense, and probably have a bigger impact on a game day in and day out than any other type of assist. They even have two versions of an unassisted play- a strikeout, and a play handled by one fielder by himself. It’s important to note that pitchers do not get assists on groundouts or flyouts.
Regarding assists, in some cases, baseball assists are the most impressive, but basketball is where you see the offensive assists impact a game directly, and it varies greatly from how you get assists in hockey.
In basketball, you get an assist when you directly assist in setting up a player to score. To get an assist you have a period of roughly 2 seconds after you pass the ball for a teammate to score to get an assist. When the rules of the game were originally created, players receiving a pass weren’t even allowed a dribble before scoring before a player could be credited with an assist.
But the assist in hockey? You can pass the puck to someone else, watch that guy skate 100 feet away, watch them pass the puck to someone else, then watch that guy shoot it in and BOOM you’re in the box score! For a whole lot of watching and non-involvement! Passengers, Capuano style.
Now, I get the people defending the mythos of the “hockey playmaker,” the guy that compiles assists on the back of others work. That type of player exists in abundance, and we’re going to discuss the player I call the “Coat Tails” player later on.
Don’t get me wrong, there are genuine playmakers in the NHL. Anze Kopitar comes to mind. Jumbo Joe Thornton. Cindy Crosby. A playmaker is probably in the top 50 in assists in the NHL for current players, especially if they have a decade plus in the league. If not, you have to question if they’re a playmaker.
“Why limit a list to 50 players?” you may ask? Fair question, 50 players would be more than 2 full teams, making up almost 10 percent of the NHL.
A playmaker is not just about assists. What makes a playmaker REALLY effective is if they can also score goals. If it’s a 2 on 1 and you know that the playmaker is always going to pass, you can break up the play way more easily than if the player with the puck is a goal scoring threat.
In short, I will accept that a playmaker makes assists argument, if and only if the playmaker can make a play for himself as well and light the lamp. If a player has never scored 20 goals, they are not a playmaker. Also, if you have scored 20 goals, it doesn’t mean you’re a playmaker.
Beyond that, lets talk about the way hockey awards an assist. It’s a misleading statistic. Why? Because a goal can be unassisted, but there is no assist without a goal. Meaning? The assist is the participation trophy of hockey. And any unnecessary statistic is unimportant, and as you will see, it is absolutely damaging.
Not convinced? Lets set up a little scenario on the value of statistics.
Team A plays Team B. Team B gets 6 assists. Team A gets two assists. Final Score? 4-3, Team A wins.
“HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?,” assist fans say.
Easy. Every goal scored by Team B had 2 assists. One guy made a pass and then went into the locker room to take a shit. Meanwhile someone skated between 5 defenders, drew a penalty, then passed to the extra attacker who was staring at an IPad before he was pushed onto the ice by the bench coach to score the goal.
Another play had a guy grind a puck from the corner, then pass to a guy that dicked around for ten seconds at the point, then shot it at the goalie. On the way, the shot hit a guy in the ass as he skated in front of the net and went into the goal.
Last scoring play for A? On a 3 on 2, there was a crisp passing play that took all of 2 seconds, resulting in a goal.
For team A? One guy got into a passing lane, stole a pass with a fine defensive play, got a breakaway and scored. The next goal? A successful penalty shot. Next, a player chipped a puck past a defenseman along the boards allowing his teammate to swoop in unopposed to score a goal. And the game winner? A 2 on 1 break on a coughed up puck at the point- think Lee and Eberle on the overtime ECF game winning goal in game 5.
I’m not saying that as a concept assists are invalid. But assists can invalidate individual efforts, which make them a misleading statistic, which is bad. But we shouldn’t always focus on bad. Here comes some good.
The FIVE Best Assists in all of Sports:
Outfielder throws out a guy at home plate. Pumps up the entire team, the fanbase, and Youtube content makers. Outfielder does roughly 90% of the work, maybe more now that the play at the plate is non-contact.
The Alley Oop. I think that’s French for “Jump your mother behind a building.” A player throws a ball in the very close vicinity of the basket, where some 6’9” guy puts his arms out and jumps a few inches to throw the ball directly into the basket. All skill goes to the guy making the pass.
The one timer. Named after your sex life, but not your girlfriend’s. This should be the standard for NHL assists.
1-2-3 double play. Pitcher throws, catches, throws again. Catcher throws. No one scores, the asshole that hit it back to the pitcher is out for sucking, and his teammates trash talk him for being useless.
Magic Johnson. Not specifically an assist. More like an assist machine. Highest career Assists Per Game in basketball regular season history, which is an assist per game lower than his highest APG in NBA playoff history. As the game got harder he got better. Known to say “whoo whoo!” as he broke down 40% of the defense singlehandedly and then toss a ball to a 6’10” guy a foot from the basket for an easy 2.
The problem is that the NHL hands out assists like candy, padding the stats of many mediocre players. This is a BAD IDEA. The sport lives in a salary cap world. And not like the NBA salary cap, which has gone up on average of $10 million a year each year over the last four years. You can have players with stats that look something like a half point a game of productivity while actually impacting the scoreboard and outcome of the game about 10% of the time looking to get paid on par with the people with similar surface stats who impact the scoreboard 150% more frequently.
So, how should the NHL reform the stat of assist to make it like the NBA- a direct impact on the scoring- without destroying their salary structure and without rewarding marginal talent?
Let’s start with changing what an assist is and isn’t.
An assist should clearly cause a goal. Like a chip pass to a guy sneaking behind defensemen. Or a one timer pass. Or a saucer pass over a defemsemans stick that someone takes to make a deke and score a goal. Or a passing play where one guy feeds a cutter who collects the pass and rips a wrist shot past the goalie. Like these:
It should not be when a guy makes a pass and goes off for a change to watch a goal get scored. You’re not even on the ice, so how did you affect the play?
It should not be when a guy that passed from the circle in front of his own goal to the guy in the other circle, who then skates singlehandedly across the length of the ice, dekes all defenders, and scores a goal. The fans had as much impact in that play as did the first pass.
As a whole, secondary assists should almost entirely not exist. No other sport does secondary assists. Why? Because they’re stupid. There is only one way a secondary assist should be allowed to happen. Player A hits player B with a pass who immediately hits player C who shoots and scores. Entire play takes 2 seconds. Then maybe you can make the case for everyone being involved contributors. But a guy who skates around, then hits another guy with a pass who skates around, then shoots it at goal to have it redirected? One assist.
A goalie makes a save on your shot on goal and someone tucks in a rebound? That’s not even a fucking pass. No assist at all.
Puck hits you in the ass and goes in? No assist. Puck hits the opposing team and goes in the net? No assist. Accidents aren’t assists.
What would you find from these changes? Let’s take a couple of players to study, shall we?
Wayne Gretzky had over 100 assists in a season 11 times. Is he a playmaker? Fuck yes. Why? Because Gretzky also has 894 goals. Not counting the 46 more from the WHA. Defend the pass, don’t defend the pass, he’ll still fuck you. One of the most dominant players in any sport ever. Think 99 would have been less great if you added more strict assist rules? Nope, because he scored 900 fucking goals.
Too high a standard? OK, lets take it down a notch. Ziggy Palffy.
12 year career. 684 career games- that’s a 57 game a year average. 329 goals, 384 assists. More than a point a game. If you made assists less frequent? Still a 500 point player in the NHL. I find Palffys last two seasons in the NHL interesting. Here’s why:
16-25-41 in 35 games, then a retirement, followed by a year off, and then his second and final NHL retirement year of 11-31-42 in 42 games. He couldn’t stay NHL healthy, yet he came back at a point a game pace. After Palffy’s second retirement from the NHL? he played 5 more pro seasons in Europe at a pace of almost two points a game, Into his 40’s.
Stat lines like 16-25-41 and 11-31-42 remind me of a certain player….hmmm….can any reader guess whose full season totals I’m thinking of?
An average of 12-20-32 over a full season for 8 years in a row. Anyone calling that elite? Now, add in tougher assist rules and you’re looking at a roughly 20 point a season player.
Welcome to 2008-2016 Josh Bailey, ladies and gentlemen.
Bailey is the player that is often called elite by #IslesKoolAid, who are often cultish in defending the players that they like. So lets start with Ziggy Paffy. Is HE a 20 point a season player with tougher assist rules? Hell no. Is Anze Kpoptiar? Or Patrick Laine? Hell no.
No, Bailey is a different type of player. He’s a coattail player. When others score, he gets points. And that is a problem in a salary cap sport- coattail points.
Because Baileys stats look productive, he is paid like he is productive. But research shows? A drastic overpay- almost 100% over valued.
This is TERRIBLE for the sport. It causes skilled players to ask for even more money because coattail players are getting rich. This ties up the salary cap for a team, locking them into a win now mentality as they can’t pay today’s coatails and today’s RFA’s. Salary caps are tied up with players getting contracts in career years, and from padded stats, damaging teams and fan bases. Frans Neilsen in Detroit, anyone? Bobby Ryan in Ottawa?
Wait, what’s that I’m hearing from coattail fans and #IslesKoolAid? What about Baileys coattail prime year hanging around 40 goal scoring Anders Lee and 36 goal scoring John Tavares? Sure, lets look at Bailey averages for career phase two:
15-41-56 over a full 4 seasons, including 15% of his career points coming in one outlying glorious coattail year. “HOW CAN YOU CALL THAT COATTAILS!?,” #IslesKoolAid screams. Here’s how:
Anders Lee scored 34 then 40 goals playing wing next to Some Piece of Shit. Since those years? A 20 something goal scorer, just like before those years. Also, Lee played the 2018-19 season with his same linemate Bailey, just without his center King Douchbag. What happened? Lee saw his goal scoring output drop 30%, back again into the 20somethings. Anders Lee gets paid $7 million a year to score 20something goals. That’s who he is.
And Bailey? Without Snake, his points total that first year dropped over 20%. So…how could both Bailey and Lee have production drops if one guy was such a great playmaker? And why did that “playmaker” drop in his point total another 10% in the season after that? Because the real playmaker is in Toronto. How do I know?
Because one guy was 272-349-631 in 669 games, and the other was 154-322-476 in 865 games. Judging by those two stat lines, which is the playmaker and which rides coattails? Now factor in tougher assist standards and which seems to have more value?
Also, how impactful was that outlier year for Bailey? Without it, Bailey’s FOUR SEASON average drops 10% to 14-37-51.
Look at the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bailey was the Islanders leading scorer with 20 points, breaking down as 2-18-20. The team that won the cup was led by Braden Point who was 14-19-33. Imagine the difference in the Islanders season if Bailey had 9 more goals to go with all of those coattails? Shit, although Nikita Kucherov had 26 assists in the playoffs, he had 350% more goals than Bailey.
Defensemen even had larger impacts on goal scoring than an elite forward. Dallas Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen was 6-20-26 in the playoffs, dwarfing the offensive output of Bailey in goals and grabbing almost 50% more points on the power play. And very deserved playoff MVP Victor Hedman? 10-12-22, 13 power play points, 3 game winning goals including one in overtime. GAME WINNING GOALS. I don’t see any category for game winning assist, however. Because there shouldn’t be.
This isn’t a knock solely on Bailey. Many teams have a Bailey. Kyle Turris in Nashville. Vladislav Namestnikov in Colorado. Ryan Strome on the Ranjerkoffs are some examples of the guys who bring something to the table, but take way more off of it.
Hockey needs to reassess how it hands out its participation awards. It would be healthy for the sport and would keep parity among salaries for the elite, the good, the average, and the bad, which would benefit the fans by maximizing their entertainment value. It would both externally and internally manage a salary cap, and there would still be actual playmakers in the game, not guys who are called playmakers who do not rank in the top 50 in active players for assists after a decade in the game. Those guys are coattails. Feel free to use that when discussing hockey. It’s on me- call it an assist.
Based on its revenues, hockey needs to be a sport of penny pinchers. It need not pay players that watch others players play hockey like any fan can, just from better seats. Paying people for shit that they don’t do is never a good idea. Hockey needs to reinvent how they credit assists, because not doing such will lead them into a greater financial crisis than they already face, which is the most dire of professional sports. Consider this my assist to the league.
*This piece was written without help, so it was unassisted, which was my goal.