STI: Could you give some background info on yourself for those that may not be familiar with you?
AG: I was born in Brooklyn and did the natural progression of American-Italian families by moving to Staten Island then to New Jersey where I currently reside with my wife, son and daughter. I have played hockey my entire life, starting at age 7, through high school into college, now still dabbling. I have also coached for 10 years and am finishing up with my son’s bantam team this winter before he moves on to the older age bracket. I always knew I loved to write and when the opportunity presented itself to get my work out there at Eyes, I enthusiastically embraced the challenge. As an investment banker during the day, it does keep me very busy but when your pieces are well received it makes it all worth it. This season, we were granted an interview with the NY Islanders for inclusion into the blog box and were accepted by the team, marking 2013-14 our first as credentialed media members representing the only team I have ever rooted for. It really has been a surreal experience I hope to expand on down the road as other opportunities may present themselves because of the work I am doing at Eyes and am truly thankful to all the great people I have met as a result, both in and out of the media.
STI: What are your thoughts on the summer moves made by the team?
AG: I really feel that Garth Snow had a strong off-season. It might not have been the fireworks that some social media folk demanded but at the end of the day the reality was it didn’t have to be. The Islanders were already an up and coming team with a superlative farm system and if you didn’t see the rebirth coming, you just were not paying that much attention. Cal Clutterbuck is going to be an absolute terror to play against night in and night out for opposing Metropolitan division opponents and Peter Regin, if he has a strong camp, can make an impact on the penalty kill by adding even more speed to what Michael Grabner already possesses. Pierre-Marc Bouchard will likely get first crack at playing alongside John Tavares and Matt Moulson on the first line and could help turn that duo into the most prolific goal scoring pair in the entire league. The Islanders are most definitely a better team than the one that left the ice after game six in last season’s opening round of the playoffs. But as we all know, it’s also about chemistry and clubhouse makeup, something the team was already proud of as well. This is a great group that truly does enjoy playing with one another. The discounts accepted in the Tavares and Hamonic contracts for example prove that.
STI: What prospect are you most excited to see this season potentially make an impact at the NHL level?
AG: I am really excited, as I have been for the past six months or so, to see Matt Donovan. I really feel this is his year to step up and shine in the NHL and the opportunity is most certainly there with the departure of Mark Streit to Philadelphia. I am in no way predicting that his offensive explosion in Bridgeport will translate into Erik Karlsson numbers but the talent on both sides of the puck is clearly there. I can see him making this team out of training camp and playing about 15 minutes per night as 5/6 D-man. Ryan Strome is of course the other ‘hot ticket’ item that will be showcased in camp but I honestly think he could benefit so much more with a year in the AHL. Griffin Reinhart will start becoming a regular fixture in these conversations as early as next year.
STI: Who is one player you expect to have a break out year this season?
AG: Josh Bailey, who has been steadily improving since being rushed to the NHL, will take the biggest leap among Islanders forwards this season. Along with Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen, the trio practically dragged the Islanders into the post-season with their outstanding play over the final two months of the 2013 season. All Bailey has to do more is shoot more in my mind to move into the 20-30-50 range of consistent offensive production. I feel that with the training wheels now completely off the bicycle, he understands his role and the responsibility placed on him to be an all-around player and will respond to that challenge.
STI: Which player do you think is most likely to surprise people this season?
AG: Many of the players on the roster will, I feel, produce close to what is expected of them by the fanbase. The one guy however who has been getting no ‘love’ this off-season is Regin. He has been dogged by health issues the last couple of seasons but when healthy is a real speed forward who can contribute 10-15 goals on the bottom two lines and play very responsibly in his own zone. If you pair him with Grabner, can you imagine the nightmares that would cause some NHL defensemen in trying to deal with all that speed? He claims to be coming into camp fully healthy and will have lots to prove, especially to his ex-employers, the Ottawa Senators. It’s just a gut feeling but I think he produces more than what the fans right now are expecting him to.
STI: What do you think is a bigger question mark for the team going into this season? Goalie or Defense? Why?
AG: Honestly, it’s both equally. They need each other to survive the 82 game slate that is coming up. The defense was outstanding in the final 6 weeks last season to the tune of a sub 2.00 GAA and that was not just a product of Nabokov. It was better clearances, quicker transition and a substantial increase in blocked shots. But with Streit gone, someone has to step up. Is it Donovan? Can Visnovsky, at 37, stay fresh for a full complement of games? Are Thomas Hickey and Brian Strait ready to be full time consistent contributors at this level? Between the pipes, the biggest question obviously is can Kevin Poulin or Anders Nilsson step up and give quality backup goaltending for 25-30 starts, keeping Nabokov fresh for what we hope is a playoff run? As you can see, the questions abound at each turn when you talk goaltending and defense. The Islanders will go as far as those two areas take them. We know the scoring will be there.
STI: Are you excited for the outdoor game? What element of the game are you most excited for?
AG: Obviously any time the Rangers and Islanders meet it’s a grand event. Especially in my house, which is divided right down the middle. Wife and son bleed Ranger blue while my daughter and I wear Isles orange. So it’s usually them in one room and us in the other. I actually think the league overdid it with all these outdoor games. The spectacle and what made it so special was the one time it was held with all the attention focused on that one city and two teams. Now it’s become a bit of overkill, especially putting a game in Los Angeles. If it was not for the Kings winning the cup two years ago, would they even know they still have a team? I will be right where the view is the best and the cost is the least, on my couch warm and cozy cheering on what I am hoping is an Isles victory. What I am looking forward to the most in that event is the media having to fully acknowledge the rebirth of this great franchise and start giving them the respect that they have earned.
STI: If you could make one bold prediction about the 2013/2014 New York Islanders, what would it be?
AG: Bold is what you want, bold is what you get. The Islanders challenge the Penguins all season long for the division crown, just falling short at the end of the season. Still a second place finish in the newly minted Metropolitan division and top 5 Eastern conference seed is enough to get the Isles into the second round of the playoffs.
STI: Of the three local teams, which do you think will have the best season?
AG: The Rangers will finish 3-5 points behind the Islanders for that aforementioned second place spot and that is only because they have arguably the best goaltender in the game today .They will open things up a bit under new head coach Alain Vingeault but still struggle to score more often than not. The Devils, after losing Ilya Kovalchuk, are probably the slowest team in the entire league, especially given the off-season additions of Michael Ryder, Ryane Clowe and Jaromir Jagr. They will have a decent power play and still are a good defensive team but will be on the losing end of a lot of 2-0, 2-1 type games this season and finish last among the three metro area clubs.
STI: What are your expectations for the Islanders this season?
AG: I think it is very important for the team to not take a step back this season. My expectations for the season are to challenge the top teams in the conference every night and make themselves a real nuisance to play against, finish top 3 in the division and top 6 in the conference. As you can see, my expectations are realistic and not too far-fetched. I think that is very important for fans to consider when analyzing this team. Don’t go overboard, be realistic and you will be pleased with this years version of the hockey club. Now, if you ask me again two years from now? I expect to be a Stanley Cup contender.