Prospect Scrimmage Set, Nino Declines Invite

Kevin Schultz, Islanders Point Blank:

Yesterday the Islanders announced that the annual Orange and Blue Prospect Scrimmage is set for Thursday, July 11th at 7pm at the Old Barn (tickets on sale for $10, proceeds to charity). It’s an annual game between the franchise’s up-and-coming players, the culmination of a four-day mini-camp.

Arthur Staple tweeted that one prospect, Nino Niederreiter, had declined the option to attend the camp given that the has already done so three times and thus, is not required to go. In follow up, Staple also said that, in his opinion, “team and player aren’t in a good place right now.”

As he asserted, it is fair to assume that since Niederreiter had a fit about not getting the invite to training camp and asked for a trade in January relations are not warm and fuzzy.

On Twitter, there was quite a bit of backlash that included it being labeled “the last straw,” “poor character,” and paving his way out¬†of the organization. Those thoughts certainly aren’t off-base. It’s clearly not a great PR move for a player that is, for better or worse, a lightning rod thanks to some immature actions and/or an overzealous agent.

Fans tend to view players opting out of things like this as “lazy” or “uncommitted to the team,” and other such sentiments, especially if there is a reason to suspect the player is a “bad” player for whatever reason. But that’s also making the leap that those are indeed the reasons that the player has chosen such course of action. It’s assuming that the reason for not going is a negative one and not something to do with family, training, or another possibly acceptable reason. The negative assumption also serves to fill the narrative of a bad player doing another bad thing because he is a problem player or egotistical or other what have you. We don’t have any facts regarding the ‘why’ so we create ones that logically fit the story.

But the more important point, in my opinion, is that this is not a big deal at this moment in time regardless of the ‘why’.

Niederreiter has been to prospect camp for three years running and a fourth appearance isn’t going to make or break his chance at the team in the fall. Could it help a little? Of course. Could not attending make him even more tradable at the draft? No. We don’t know if Garth Snow was already planning on moving him or not, but not reporting for an optional session doesn’t provide reason tip the scales any further than they already were. He’s a logical trade chip either way, there’s no denying that. And if Snow decides not to trade him, and Niederreiter wants out, the 20-year old is still under Islander control for at least a few more years and there’s nothing he can do about it (the KHL is probably the only league that would even think about picking a fight for a contracted NHL player).

For Niederreiter, in his situation, the focus should be on the fall and making the team out of training camp. Does anything else really matter when it comes down to it? If not shuttling across the Atlantic away from his home that he sees for only a couple months out of the year for a few days of optional mini-camp signals the end of his time as an Islander then, by that school of thought, he should have been cut the day he made the trade request, which is infinitely worse.

If he scores a goal in a scrimmage, that won’t really change anything. It won’t change that horrible idea he had of a trade request. It won’t get him on the opening night roster any quicker. It won’t make fans like him more. You can’t take back the trade request, and thus you can’t take back the negative sentiment the team and fans may have towards him. Now playing like a bat-out-of-hell in September? That would go a long way. Coming to camp would be a non-story, so yes, there’s a small glimmer of a reason to do so in terms of public perception, whatever that is worth at this point.

The concern should be what Niederreiter does in big-boy camp in the fall. Fail out of that class, and then we can really start to push the panic button.