As the decisions begin to pile up on Garth Snow’s desk – what to do with Josh Bailey today, how to adjust the roster if Kyle Okposo returns tomorrow and Mike Sillinger returns next week – add one to the list. This has now officially gone on too long with Jeff Tambellini, and the Islanders must get in fix-it mode immediately. There is one obvious remedy.
After today’s team-low 9:20 of ice (1 shot, 2 penalties) in a 7-2 loss in Boston, Tambellini now has 0 goals and 2 assists in 22 games with the Islanders this season, 1 goal in his last 52 games as an Islander. He has not scored a goal in his last 40 games. The idea that Jeff’s game can make the transition in the midst of an NHL season to a more Andy Hilbert-like two-way style is ludicrous. To be an effective player, Tambellini has to be reliable in his own end and contribute at least 15-20 goals a season. Neither is happening right now.
Call it a band-aid, but there is a partial solution. The Collective Bargaining Agreement allows a player to be sent to the minors for “conditioning” for two weeks – without having to clear waivers – if the player agrees to it. If they haven’t already (one has to believe they have), the Islanders must consider a conditioning stint for the left wing in Bridgeport.
Tambellini’s struggles may not have killed the Islanders up to this point, but today’s 7-2 loss in Boston - in which the 170-pound Scott Gordon student David Krejci powered his way to the kind of goal that Tambellini has not – really put his struggles under the magnifying glass. To be generous, there have been perhaps 5 games this season when Tambellini has made a positive impact. It is now at a point where even if you choose to look at this as the coldest of businesses, his value as an asset is now minimal.
Since Tambellini has a one-way contract for this season and for next season, the odds are slim a team would snatch him off the waiver wire if he was sent to Bridgeport the traditional route. Nevertheless, the team and Tambellini should work out a conditioning agreement that’s best for everyone. The left wing can play for Jack Capuano in the same system for two weeks in the American Hockey League, score a few goals, build up his confidence, value and everything else.
This has gone on far too long for Jeff, a very skilled player and a terrific young man I had the pleasure to work with. He’s Islanders royalty, but for reasons far beyond being his father’s son, Jeff deserves every chance to get it right here. I’m sure the last thing the franchise wants is to see a talented youngster thrive somewhere else. Still, Tambellini is now at a crossroads, and for two weeks of games the Islanders must have a better option somewhere in the farm system.
Two Steps Back: On Wednesday night the Islanders were one period away from reaching .500. Ten minutes after the Sid & Geno show had ended and the Penguins had come back to win the game, an Islanders fan was still in the Coliseum stands, his head in his hands but with plenty to say.
“What a setback,” he said, sitting in his seat adjacent to the tunnel where the players (and media) head to the locker room. “We close out this game the way we should have, we’re at .500, we’ve now beaten the Penguins and a bunch of good teams and all of a sudden XM, Versus, TSN and everyone else has us in the conversation about the other competitive teams across the league.”
Today the Islanders were down 2-1 in the third period when Manny Fernandez stopped Bill Guerin on a breakaway. Before you knew it, the score was 4-1 and Peter Mannino was making his NHL debut while Joey MacDonald was steaming on the Islanders’ bench.
The Islanders have made a lot of progress the last few weeks despite some major injuries and while learning a difficult, punishing (Ken Hitchcok’s word) new system. Even in their train-wreck moments, they’ve been a blast to watch and at times highly effective. On Wednesday night the Islanders were one period away from reaching .500. Now they are 9-12-2.
These last two games proved they are not ready to be considered in the top half of the league. In the marathon of the NHL season, there is still plenty of time.
ETC: An agitated Billy Jaffe in the final seconds of today’s third period blowout, as Michael Ryder was camped out in searched of a hat trick: “Somebody’s gotta put him on his butt in front of the net! I know there’s four seconds left, but you gotta do it. Do it for the kid in net, Mannino.”
Gordon called today’s performance, “Our worst game since the Buffalo game.” The coach said he pulled MacDonald because he is playing tomorrow at the Coliseum against Ottawa and he didn’t want the goalie subjected any more to the Boston onslaught and the Islanders not backing each other up.
Nate Thompson (almost 12 minutes) and Jeremy Colliton (10) – the only Islanders today at plus-1.
Weekly reminder: do not wait for a trade to change this team. All solutions will likely have to be found on the Islanders and Bridgeport rosters, and from players coming off the injured list. See you at the Coliseum tomorrow.