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Ranking the off-season transactions


Get ready, Islanders fans, because the final season at the Coliseum is coming. This is an important season for your Orange & Blue, whether you like it or not. Don’t expect a Stanley Cup, but if the hockey gods are listening, a post-season appearance with one last go in the old barn would be pretty special.

It hasn’t been a quiet off-season by any means. Rumor after rumor has surfaced about Garth Snow offering contracts to just about every big name free agent on the market. Each of those free agents declined the offers, of course.

But Snow has brought in some depth, and filled some core areas heading into the 2014-2015 campaign.

The top acquisitions of the Isles this off-season:

1. May 22, Isles ink Jaroslav Halak: After acquiring Halak from the Capitals for a fourth-round pick in this year’s NHL Draft, they signed the veteran goalie to a four-year deal three weeks later. This solidifies a major hole for the franchise. Evgeni Nabokov was good during his brief stint, but Halak adds a younger and stronger option. His No. 41 Islanders jerseys are already on sale (see photo above).

2. July 2, Isles ink Mikhail Grabovski: Like Halak, Grabovski brings a proven record and he signed a four-year deal. He’s only 30 and has 425 career NHL games under his belt. Last season he scored 35 points in just 58 games with Washington. In 2010-2011, he had 29 goals and 58 points for Toronto.

3. July 2, Isles ink Nikolai Kulemin: This signing is a lot like Grabovski. Kulemin adds depth of a similar proportion. An Olympian for Team Russia, he has played in 421 career NHL games and is a one-time 30-goal scorer for Toronto (2010-2011). He played the last six seasons in Toronto and scored 20 points.

4. July 1, Isles ink T.J. Brennan: They didn’t get an NHL veteran as a defenseman, but they did get a highly touted prospect. T.J. Brennan won the Eddie Shore Award as the best defenseman in the American Hockey League last season, while with Toronto’s affiliate. He scored 25 goals and had 72 assists in the minors. The upside is huge.

5. July 1, Isles ink Cory Conacher: He had 26 points last season with Ottawa and Buffalo. The interesting note about Conacher is that he was the MVP of the AHL in 2011-2012 with Norfolk. Again, this is more of an upside move and not someone who is proven.

6. July 1, Isles ink Chad Johnson: Halak’s backup is very formidable. He was 17-4-3 last season in 27 games with Boston. He ranked sixth in the NHL last year in both goals against average and save percentage.

I know what you’re going to say. Who are these guys? Besides Halak, not many jump off the page at you. It’s depth, but not the star-studded veteran brand you’d like.
I’m beginning to come around to the thought that Snow is doing all he can with what he has. He offers contracts. He went after big names – Vanek, anyone – and was able to sign pieces that could pay off, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Chris Vaccaro
Author: Chris Vaccaro
Chris R. Vaccaro is a journalist, author and professor from Long Island. Vaccaro, who serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Topps Company's digital division, is an adjunct journalism professor at Hofstra University, the President of the Press Club of Long Island and has written five books about Long Island sports history.

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Isles Release Final Schedule at Coliseum


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Forget the road games. Forget the Barclays Center. Remember, this is the final season at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Regardless of how bad or good the Islanders may be, try and make one of the 41 home games.

Even if the Coliseum is renovated and the team comes back to Nassau to play six regular season games per season, as speculated by media and mentioned occasionally in talks about the future of the franchise, it’s still not going to be the same old barn we’re used to. Enjoy it while it lasts, island diehards.

With the 2014-2015 season just two months away, that emotional gut-wrenching feeling has already started to settle in for some; the last home opener, the last Isles-Rangers game, the final regular season game, or heck, the final playoff game if it were to happen.

If you’re going to head to Uniondale this season, here are some games to check out:
*October 11: Home opener vs. Carolina
*December 15: Final Isles-Devils game in Nassau
*February 10: Final Isles-Oilers game in Nassau (‘80s connotations)
*March 10: Final Isles-Rangers game in Nassau
*March 26: Hosting the Stanley Cup Champion Kings
*March 28: Final game against a Western Conference opponent in Nassau vs. Ducks
*April 11: Final home game vs. Columbus

If it takes some coaxing to get you off your couch and onto the Meadowbrook Parkway and Hempstead Turnpike, just remember by fall of 2015 you’ll have to take the Long Island Rail Road to an Islanders game.

See you in Uniondale this season

Chris Vaccaro
Author: Chris Vaccaro
Chris R. Vaccaro is a journalist, author and professor from Long Island. Vaccaro, who serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Topps Company's digital division, is an adjunct journalism professor at Hofstra University, the President of the Press Club of Long Island and has written five books about Long Island sports history.

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Isles Fans Revel in Kings Victory


For a brief time, Los Angeles was Long Island West during the Stanley Cup Final. I won’t speak for all Islanders fans, but I’m certain most were not supporting the Rangers during their quest for a fifth cup title and first in 20 years.

It didn’t happen and when the Kings clinched their second title in three years during Game 5 it was a relief for many. Something about the Rangers losing in overtime made the loss even more potent.

I traveled into New York City for Game 4 at Madison Square Garden hoping to see hockey history, but, instead, I saw a damn good hockey game and a 2-1 Rangers victory, which forced the cup-clinching game two days later across the country. Good for all the Kings fans that were able to see their team win the cup on home ice.

Before we go any further and you think this is a Rangers bashing column, because it’s really not, let me explain my disdain for the blue shirts somewhat psychologically. Let’s go back to 1994 when the Rangers swept the Islanders in the Eastern Conference
Quarterfinals. I was 8 years old and took a verbal beating from Rangers fans in the third grade. Sounds like nothing, I know, but it’s something. Just as we are affected by everything else that happens in our childhood, these fan-related incidents were so psychologically damaging to me as a child that it will have a lasting impact for the rest of my life. I dislike the Rangers because of how Rangers fans acted towards me as a young Islanders fan. On the flip side, my devotion towards the Islanders as a child and teen grew even stronger.

This series, all of those feelings came rushing back. Facebook and Twitter didn’t help. For a solid month as the playoffs developed, Rangers fans came out of the woodworks. Everyone who claimed to be a Rangers fan had something to say. The bandwagon was full. I kept relatively quiet until the last two days of the series. By then, the child inside had enough and I was wired to another level. When the Kings won, it evoked feelings as good as if any of my favorite teams actually clinched a title (only the Giants have in my lifetime, for the record).

During Game 4, I sat and observed as a sea of blue shirts rose from their seats to celebrate two Rangers goals. I did not stand and cheer for Los Angeles when they scored. I wanted to get home alive. Everyone erupted around me as I sat in silence, smirking slightly because I knew the outcome of the series would not end in their favor.

Someone on Twitter called me a sore loser for some lighthearted comments I made about the Kings’ victory. I replied with, “Today, I’m a winner!” The Islanders didn’t make the playoffs, barely stumbled out of the basement of the Metropolitan Division, have one season left at the Coliseum before moving to Brooklyn and are as lost as any franchise in professional sports, but for one night, for one brief moment in sports history, the Kings provided an escape that was so brilliant I’ll remember it for a lifetime.

Chris Vaccaro
Author: Chris Vaccaro
Chris R. Vaccaro is a journalist, author and professor from Long Island. Vaccaro, who serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Topps Company's digital division, is an adjunct journalism professor at Hofstra University, the President of the Press Club of Long Island and has written five books about Long Island sports history.

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Isles Get Simpson’s Treatment With Logo


You know the Islanders out of playoff contention when the big story this week involves The Simpsons.

Yes, those Simpsons.

AK47 Studios, a design company that promotes its work on Instagram, redesigned every NHL logo by using Simpsons’ characters. They’re fantastic.

The Islanders may have one of the best of the bunch. Captain Horatio McCallister takes the place of the Gorton Fisherman, or whomever the Islanders used as the face of the old fisherman logo, and it looks brilliant. Seriously. Isles fans would buy this on a tee shirt.

AK 47 Studios should jump on a call with the NHL and 20th Century Fox like today.

It’s not often you can mix pop culture and sports and knock it out of the park, but this design studio did. Kudos.

Check out all the logos on the AK47 Studios Instagram page.

Chris Vaccaro
Author: Chris Vaccaro
Chris R. Vaccaro is a journalist, author and professor from Long Island. Vaccaro, who serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Topps Company's digital division, is an adjunct journalism professor at Hofstra University, the President of the Press Club of Long Island and has written five books about Long Island sports history.

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Isles ink goalie Halak to contract


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Score one in the positive column for the Islanders and general manager Garth Snow. The franchise just inked Jaroslav Halak to a four-year deal worth $18 million, according to multiple reports. That’s right, a franchise goaltender.

Halak, 29, who has won 25-plus games in four of the last five seasons, had some ride through the 2013-2014 season, starting with St. Louis, then being dealt to Buffalo and finally to New York once the regular season ended. Through all the moves, he still went 29-13-7.

In 2011-12, Halak won the Jennings Trophy, allowing the fewest goals in the National Hockey League. He also sports a 144-85-29 record, 30 shutouts and a career .918 save percentage and 2.38 goals against average.

Even though two trades and a wobbly go at the 2013-2014 season, Halak was still fourth in the league with five shutouts and eighth in goals against with a mark of 2.25. He’s legit and will be a stable piece in net compared to what the Islanders have had for about the last decade.

Halak has ample playoff experience as well, appearing in 23 playoff games with Montreal and St. Louis. He led the Habs, who originally drafted him, to the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals in 2010.

Considering this is a key piece the Islanders were missing, the franchise is fortunate to lock Halak very early in the process and now they can focus on building up other depleted parts of the roster.

Don’t put Halak up there with the likes of Billy Smith just yet, but he should be a valuable commodity in the prime of his career.

Chris Vaccaro
Author: Chris Vaccaro
Chris R. Vaccaro is a journalist, author and professor from Long Island. Vaccaro, who serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Topps Company's digital division, is an adjunct journalism professor at Hofstra University, the President of the Press Club of Long Island and has written five books about Long Island sports history.

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