The Enigmatic Russian

The Enigmatic Russian: An Abstract

Why are the poster children of my fancy new blog Alexei Yashin and Mikhail Grabovski?

In this author’s view, they are emblematic of the incongruities between decision making, current results, and post-result hindsight; a theme I’ll be tackling repeatedly along our arduous, though hopefully entertaining journey. For the purpose of this piece the acronym DCH (Decision Making, Current Results, Hindsight) will be used.

The former case, an at-the-time, prime-aged franchise center was acquired by the Islanders GM for nothing more than picks and prospects. What a fox! Truly this is a GM to be spoken of in hushed revered tones. Enter DCH. The pick was used to select a-as fate would have it-franchise center, and the hulking pylon of a defense prospect the Isles gave away decided to become a future Hall of Famer. Naturally by virtue of these obviously unforseeable results, the franchise center the Isles were now tied to was now the object of scorn and ridicule along with the GM who paid dearly for this player’s acquisition.

Yashin continually put up excellent results as an Islander despite the surrounding talent being slowly liquidated as part of behind-the-scenes ownership machinations. Fans, however, had no patience for the Enigmatic Russian™ and his Russian-ness. After guiding the Isles to the playoffs and putting up 50 points in 58 games, his onerous contract was unceremoniously bought out. His name still strikes ire into the hearts of numerous blue and orange faithful. For what reason? DCH

Mikhail Grabovski spent years in Toronto as an undersized (Bela)Russian Enigma™. He posted superlative possession numbers and generated point production by way of his savvy and speed. Similarly to Islanders fans (and perhaps North American sports fans in general), Maple Leafs fans grew weary of Grabovski’s Russian-ness and productivity. Management felt the same way and bought out his contract merely a year after extending the man.

In a twist that shocked nobody, he put up excellent statistics for a Capitals team that snagged him on the cheap and was rewarded with a lengthy contract by the Islanders. A play driving, playmaking center? “Hallelujah!” Isles fans cried…Until “Grabo” began to suffer from the dreaded injury bug. His Eastern European origins were no longer beyond reproach and the at-the-time shrewd signing was quickly reviled. See: DCH

Some might say my blatherings of 140 characters or less are hyperbolic, negative nancy tripe. They’d be right. But they follow anyways so the joke’s on them. The purpose of this lovely new blog is for me to provide to my loyal brand consumers a long-form outlet that they can enjoy while sipping their bleach au lait.

You’ll mainly find sports takes-hot and otherwise-although down the road I expect to do a bit of branching out. Rest assured, sports will always be paramount. Particularly elements of sports that beg extended excoriation.

That being said, however, do not misconstrue this blog as being squarely entrenched in the negative. There will be positive analyses; perhaps even endorsements! It’s all a matter of when events warranting such praise decide to arise from the morass of fail and show themselves.


Featured post

I Am Become Fail: The Destroyer of Teams Part III: The Current Year™

Coming off a season where the results were incongruous with the underlying mechanism that lead to them, one would imagine it’d behoove the Islanders front office to rectify said flaws and build on a team that took an important step despite these flaws.

In Isles-land however, flaws are viewed as strengths and strengths as flaws; a recurring theme as you’ll see throughout our adventure. Enter…The Current Year™.

(Disclaimer: We will be revisiting some trodden ground here, albeit in bite-sized form. Please refer to Part I for a deeper dive)

On July 1st of the Current Year™ 2 of the top 3 play-drivers and scorers on the Islanders were allowed to walk out the door. In their stead, the Isles inked an aging, starkly declining wing to a mammoth contract, picked up an elderly grinder on a 2-year pact, and on July 2nd, fortified the group with a bargain play-driver and scorer.

Apart from the latter, these seemed like awfully curious moves by a team whose failures were wrought by their lack of puck-possession and scoring-via-skill. This raised more red flags than a Chinese embassy and called into question the front office’s decision making process….but wait! Let’s rewind a bit..

On June 2nd of The Current Year™, the backup goalie (aka the GM) afforded the Isles “beloved” checking center a mammoth contract of his own. This player had breached the 30 point plateau once (never surpassing 18 points in any other season), driven by assists cobbled together as the result of an inflated on ice shooting-percentage shared by the Best 4th Line In Hockey™ (to be addresssed). Again, an extremely curious move given this checking center was neither a scorer, adept at defense/PK, particularly young, or an unrestricted free agent.

Going back to The Best 4th Line In Hockey™ (hereafter referred to as B4L), the Isles appeared to be victims of their own narrative-driven truisms. The B4L became the purported engine of team success (despite this being objectively untrue) while valuable play-drivers and scorers were viewed as expendable and past expiry (half true). The Isles doubled down on intangible coach-speak in the form of older, weaker, “experienced” players while simultaneously rejecting any semblance of trying to adapt to a league going in the polar opposite direction (as the Stanley Cup Finalists of last year might attest).

Going back to the declining wing mentioned earlier, the Andrew Ladd signing was one of many vines to sprout from a single exit point. A singularity of fail that caused the eventual collapse of a team on the rise. The non-trade for Taylor Hall (hereafter referred to as A.H. or “After Hall”) was the nexus from which every Garthuano botch, bungle, and bafflement stems.

Let’s go down the list:

  1. Hall is offered for Hamonic midseason. Trade is denied and further rebuffed during summer. (Take note Okposo was already not in the team’s future plans at this juncture)
  2. Because top line wing spot is not addressed, the GM is forced to make a big UFA acquisition. Enter Andrew Ladd, a player 7 years Hall’s senior at a significantly higher price/term commitment and a skill level several orders below Hall’s. This enormous commitment coupled with a full no-move clause is an assurance that this albatross will be firmly hung around the Isles’ necks deep into Ladd’s twilight years. The worrisome part is that it’s very possible that these years have already arrived. Naturally the move was lauded.
  3. Hamonic is retained. With Zidlicky/Strait’s departures it would logically follow that blue chip prospect Ryan Pulock or mid-tier youngster Adam Pelech seize the 6th defense slot. Additionally, having both of these players offered the Isles unprecedented flexibility vis-a-vis trading defense for offense (a position the team suffers from a distinct paucity of depth at) Neither prospect grabs a spot and old washed-up vet Dennis Seidenberg is brought in.
  4. PA Parenteau, a useful top-line caliber forward on a bargain is unceremoniously sent packing in order to (purportedly) create roster space to allow 2 young prospects to assume key roles on the club. One is subsequently sent home and the other is given the lowest TOI on the roster. Parenteau ends up on a divisional rival and is thriving.
  5. The Islanders use their newfound flexibility to incorporate a 3rd goalie onto the roster in lieu of a 7th defenseman. This goalie never plays and is scheduled to hit UFA if a 21-games played threshold isn’t met. It will not be met.
  6. Jason Chimera is brought in to replace Matt Martin’s grit and toughness. Martin’s role is subsequently handed to Nikolai Kulemin, an albatross of a different breed who was already under contract. Chimera starts the year on the 1st line in the stead of Parenteau (or Hall, if you will). He now occupies any number of top-6/middle-6 slots and receives special teams burn as well. He too, is on a multi-year pact
  7. By entrenching a marginal Quad-A talent in Cizikas on the 4th line, the Islanders have essentially hamstrung their roster construction as far as creating depth down the middle. In-house option and cheap rookie Alan Quine is demoted from viable plug to 13th forward. Bluechip prospect Mat Barzal is demoted.

Although we harp on Hall and A.H, what’s often lost is the Isles concerted and almost arrogant insistence on either pretending that Frans Nielsen did not need replacement, or that his replacement existed in house. Naturally we can throw the latter out the window given that any potential replacements are either in the minors or marginalized. Furthermore Nielsen seemed to have made a conscious decision to leave this organization regardless of the money thrown his way. For what reason? We don’t know, though his implications regarding a change of pace give some clues. Could the organization’s reluctance to appreciate the gravity of his departure be a spiteful jab by way of the petulant child known as the GM? Don’t put anything past the backup goalie. At any rate, Nielsen was not replaced, and the team has (obviously) suffered for it.

It’s hard to ignore how far the organizational rot has spread A.H. It is also hard to ignore how the team’s decisions seem to be based in bogus truisms and unsubstantiated narratives. In an unsurprising twist the Islanders of The Current Year’s™ vintage are quite terrible in virtually every respect.

Naturally the response by the maladaptive front office and coaching staff is to double down on poor decisions. Scratching top prospects, hammering in the dump and chase philosophy tantamount to hockey suicide, and rewarding incompetent veterans with increased responsibility are only a few of the cardinal sins the Isles current group has deemed expedient for their (nonexistent) playoff chances.

What has proven infinitely more troubling is that the powers-that-be appear to have no issue with their prized jewel being hammered into chips and thrown in the ocean before their eyes. There really is no rational way to parse out one decision from the other without being intrinsically linked to a central driving force of interminable fail. What’s more, there is no indication as to what the root of the failure is. The absentee owners? The teflon GM and his surrogates? The purported ex-owner (who is ever-so-conspicuously named on the team’s partner list)? Who knows what the endgame here is. It obviously isn’t the success of the team or happiness of the fans or this charade would have ended ages ago.


I Am Become Fail: Destroyer of Teams Part II – The Redeemer Cometh

The NHL over the last couple seasons seems to have consciously made an effort to adapt and incorporate statistically rational personnel options into their conventional decision making. The flag bearers for this “old dog learning new tricks” model are the GM/coach duo of the Pittsburgh Penguins; Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan. Rutherford put together a Cup winning roster in Raleigh by way of cobbling together an assortment of near-superstars and riding a fluky run by a rookie tender that never reached this apex again (ironically, this goalie would prove to be his undoing down the road). Mike Sullivan was a journeyman assistant coach who spent several years helming the moribund special teams of the John Tortorella-led New York Rangers who experienced their share of success under his stewardship despite the questionable process beneath the surface.

Why is this relevant?

These 2 men, who had-in the former’s case-passed their expiration date or-like the latter-simply hadn’t earned themselves much cache in the Old Boy’s Club known as the NHL collaborated to concoct the most dominant, exciting hockey team in the league by way of a freewheeling system with analytically-sound personnel acquisitions leading the charge.

Jack Capuano and Garth Snow (from here on out referred to as Garthuano) haven’t won a thing. A single playoff round win has been elevated to deification in Isles-Land, but this is mostly because the fanbase has been beaten so senselessly that they’ve lost their faculties.

A common talking point bandied about by purported Isles “intelligentsia” is the Herculean accomplishment of our valiant heroes, Garthuano, putting together back-to-back 100 point seasons. These 100 point seasons weren’t good enough to earn the Islanders home ice or even a  top-3 slot in their own division but hey, splitting hairs.

Let’s veer off for a second here. I promise it’s all inter-related.

The Islanders were never expected to be a salary floor team that traded for ghosts in order to remain cap compliant forever. Someday, a gallant savior would free the Isles and their fans from their largely imposed period of bondage. Naturally the most obsequious of our number venerate the nihilstic despot that put the team in the hellhole they’re in today, but behold, the liberators cometh!

teal;dear: The Isles were going to have to spend money at some point.

When teams spend lots of money they have to be prepared to incur the impenetrable (unless you’re Ed Snider/Jim Dolan) wall imposed by Premier Gary Bettman. In order to maintain a steady inflow of talent despite a hard-cap, it behooves teams to maintain a ready stable of capable, young talent. What team could be better situated to have a revolving door of exciting youngsters than the Isles, who made it their business to suck eggs every year and amass these premium draft choices?

Let’s examine

The Garthuano brain trust have not produced an NHL regular via the draft, a system so crucial to the rebuild, since 2010. And from that draft, the actual best player we chose is no longer on the team in lieu of a 4th line workman. During the period lasting from 2010-2012 the Islanders chose in the top-5 each of those years. 2 of the 3 players selected in those slots are not with the team and the 3rd spend a portion of the 15-16 season in the AHL; at other times you can find him typically with less TOI than the 4th line bangers.

The 2013 pick (15th overall), following a fine cameo and entrenched in a playoff-round-winning starting 6 could not find an opening day slot with the 2016-17 squad. He was passed over for an ancient, steeply declining, buyout candidate. After a quick grab at the golden ring, the Isles were right back in their comfort zone in the summer of 2014, namely the draft lottery. They chose 5th overall and their selection has yet to play an NHL game.

The rebuild has borne virtually no fruit for more than half a decade yet somehow a GM that has hardly accomplished much as far as winning remains teflon along with his surrogates behind the bench.

Hockey personnel infinitely more decorated, venerated, celebrated, and consecrated than Garthuano have seen the proverbial axe for far, far, FAR less despite accomplishing immeasurably more yet thhe real crime, however, is not merely inaction; it is active destruction and sabotage borne of arrogance, spite, and plain ol’ fashioned stupidity. Stick around, because we’re about to fast forward to the Present Year™.

Continued in Part III: Wherein Madness Reigns

I Am Become Fail: Destroyer Of Teams. Part I

Sports are a strange animal.

In what sector of life can abject failure for long periods of time go completely unchecked, and perhaps even twisted into plaudits? Politics perhaps, however the machinations at play in that area are a *bit* more complicated than putting black discs in giant fruit baskets.

Success in sports tends to ebb and flow. Having any sort of prolonged period of prosperity or famine is rare because the lowest level of personnel-in the sense that they essentially have no control over the building process-fluctuate constantly. Father Time slows for no man and the peculiar draft system (which I will address down the road in a later post, hopefully) ensures that the weak are constantly given chances to usurp the powerful.

What is the point of this rambling?

Enter the summer of 2006, wherein the Islanders backup goalie was hired to be the general manager of the team. Now scroll up to the title.

Hopefully you scrolled back down

I intend on doing a deep dive into the Islanders’ austerity plan/rebuild/Quixotic waiting game in a series of later posts, but this piece in particular will focus on current events. Namely your 2016-17 New York Islanders.

Coming off a playoff series win, the first in 23 years, hopes were high. Some old homegrown faces were headed out the door, but they were flawed players despite their eminent usefulness. New ownership was prepped and raring to spread those purse strings for some shiny new toys, the team had a new aren- oops (will be addressed down the road), and all was on the up and up in Isles-land.

Wait, but what about the title of this piece? We’ll get there

Despite the 15-16 squad’s playoff win, astute observers noticed an alarming trend in the Islanders play. The team’s system, which carried them throughout the 14-15 campaign by way of superlative puck possession and exciting, speedy hockey, was glaringly absent. The aforementioned lowest level of personnel (the players) were virtually identical, as were the various tiers of decision makers (coach and GM). None of the players were at an age where Father Time would be inflicting his debilitating curse either. Awfully curious how a team with the same players could dip from the 2nd ranked puck possession team to the 16th ranked unit in the span of one season.

With 2 of the top 3 play drivers and scorers on the team departing, there were indeed some holes to fill. They were filled with an extremely expensive player on the steep decline, a bad old player, and a savvy veteran scorer on the cheap. You’ll notice the last one liked to the Devils 16-17 team page, not the Isles. That’s not a mistake.

The Islanders were afforded the opportunity to trade a young, homegrown, decent defenseman on a reasonable deal for perhaps one of the 10 best players in hockey. Said defenseman even outright requested a trade in the middle of the 15-16 season. The backup goalie declined. Could’t afford to let all that heart, grit, and leadership leave the locker room of grown men and paid professionals lest there be a MUTINY.

In fact, heart and grit seemed to be a prevalent theme this past summer. 4th line center Casey Cizikas, he of surpassing the 20 point mark once in his career was afforded a monstrous 5-year 16.5 million dollar contract extension as an RFA. Borderline future HoFer Eric Staal took 10.5 mil for 3 years. Ladd’s leadership was lauded incessantly. “His Cups!”, they bleated…”Chimera’s experience!” they babbled. The only thing they forgot about was the actual play on the ice.

And what of that savvy veteran scorer I mentioned earlier? Oh, the backup goalie waived him so he could roster three (!!!) goaltenders; one of which still hasn’t gotten into a contest 12 games deep into the season and has played 7 total games since his arrival.

“Fret not foolish ingrates!” the intelligentsia sputtered, “[the backup goalie] is making room so the rookies can play!” The 2 fresh faces: energetic, highly skilled rookies; both made the team out of training camp at the expense of our friend in New Jersey. One of them played 19 total minutes with the team. He’s now in Seattle. The other one has been a healthy scratch in 2 of the last 3 games. He’s very good by the way.

The Islanders top line is centered by one of the finest players to grace the sport since the turn of the century. Neither of his wings have ever scored 20 goals. The team is at the cap ceiling now, yet they were able to surround him with a perennial 30 goal scorer and 60 point wing while they were at the cap floor. Backup goalie.

The Islanders are currently the 3rd worst possession team in the league. Is anyone else seeing a trend?

Consider this a teaser for what’s hopefully yet to come, folks. To be continued in Part II

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