IslesBlog’s Q&A With Newsday’s Arthur Staple (Part:2)

Kings Park, New York – In Part 2 of our interview with Islanders beat writer Arthur Staple, we touch on the goaltending situation, the Vanek trade, as well as JT’s superstar status.

IslesBlog: How thick of skin do you need to cover the team? The fans can be really brutal on social media and just in general.

Arthur Staple: You do need a thick skin and Twitter has forced me to try and make it even thicker. It’s definitely hard to ignore the fans who chirp me non-stop, either by email or Twitter. I’m not a rabid fan so it’s definitely hard for me to understand why you’d rather fight with the beat writer than follow the team, but some lines have definitely been crossed. I ignored everyone on Twitter for a while, then tried to respond to everyone and now I’m trying to be more selective. My tweets go straight to Newsday’s Islanders page, so there’s no foul language and really no point in giving attention to some folks who just want to be jerks.

It is tough to ignore the constant sniping from some, even when I get really great feedback from many, many other fans. I’m trying though. It does genuinely baffle me that there’s a small group on Twitter and on some message boards who feel the people who cover the team are doing them a disservice. If your team isn’t good and you blame the reporters… That’s odd. I’d think you would just stop following the reporters, watch the games and that’s that.

IB: Where do you see the goaltending situation being next year and down the road?

AS: I think Garth Snow knows the goaltending needs a serious upgrade. He made an attempt to trade for Ryan Miller last summer but the price was too steep; that left some slim pickings among the UFAs and, when Ray Emery rebuffed them to sign with Philly, they went back to Nabokov.

There’ll be better options this summer — Halak, Hiller, Miller, Khudobin — and I think they’ll make a play for one of those to team with Nabokov, who I think will return as the backup. I don’t see Poulin returning.

IB: What did you think of the Vanek trade when it happened, and how has that opinion changed?

AS: I got the impression that the Islanders weren’t going to sign Matt Moulson beyond this season, and I got that impression fairly early on in training camp. There was some definite tension between Moulson and the front office, so I figured if they were going to trade someone and shake things up, it would be him. Like most other people, I thought they would make that trade for a goaltender, so it being for Vanek surprised me a bit.

It was certainly a gamble, given that he’d turned down a pile of dough from the Sabres already. It’s hard to say whether it was worth the gamble yet, before we see what Snow gets for him in a trade. Obviously it didn’t spur the team to playing better, but I wonder where they’d be with Moulson there; scoring wasn’t the problem, clearly.

Imagine if they were in playoff contention and Vanek turned down the $50 million… That would be quite a situation. Better than the one they’re in now, but still.

IB: How do you think Jack Capuano has done? He’s obviously well liked by the players and good with the media but has he done a good enough job coaching the players?

AS: I’ve been pretty consistent in hanging the major problems with this team on the roster composition, not the coaching. They won close games last season with just a couple different players; was that coaching or was that all because of Mark Streit and Brad Boyes? It’s easy to blame Capuano for some of the shortcomings of the team — he’s not the most eloquent guy, he doesn’t have a big-time coaching pedigree and he’s not a big talker on the bench. He looks hapless at times.

But, having been around pro hockey for a while, I find that coaches are pretty much the same. They install and teach systems and situations, they show video and run practices to reinforce those systems and situations. The rah-rah, motivational part is vastly, vastly overrated. It’s a cliche, but it’s true: If a pro player needs a Knute Rockne speech every night, it’s time for that guy to find another line of work.

The main thing I’d hang on Capuano is his reluctance to adjust when games are getting away from his team. When a guy like Josh Bailey or Michael Grabner disappears for a month or two, I honestly don’t know what Capuano or his assistants are supposed to do. Maybe Ken Hitchcock marches into the GM’s office and demands new players; maybe not. To me, the main faults of this year’s team lie with a lack of depth on defense and in goal and 3-4 disappearing acts up front. Not sure how coaching could change that, but I’m sure I’ll hear on Twitter about why I’m an idiot for saying that!

IB: Who has the best personality in the locker room?

AS: Nabokov, by a long way. Goaltenders are odd ducks, but usually in a more shy, reserved sort of way; he’s more Andrew Dice Clay than that. Loves to chirp everyone, doesn’t mind being chirped back and actually has a lot to say and offer John Tavares and the rest of the young guys.

After him, I’d say Colin McDonald is another character. He’s Tavares’ roomie on LI and they are as opposite as you could be, but it’s important to the structure of the team that Tavares have a few big brothers around, especially now that Streit and Moulson are gone.

IB: How has the morale been in the locker room, specifically before and after the St. Louis game?

AS: At the low points in my 2-plus seasons covering these guys, I’ve noticed there really isn’t any big-minute veteran who steps to the fore to fire guys up. Streit was a better captain than people outside gave him credit for; he has a very honest, even keel, and he said what needed to be said. Tavares I think struggled with that earlier in the year and the rest of the core — Okposo, Bailey, Nielsen, Hamonic, MacDonald — weren’t either the right personality or felt it was the right time to step up and grab the team by the throat when the season was slipping away.

Capuano lets the players have their space, which can be good. When there isn’t enough strong leadership to fill that space, it can be bad. I think there’s a challenge to Snow and whoever the next coach may be — I don’t think Capuano will be back if they miss the playoffs — to find a couple veterans or simply experienced guys who can mesh with the core and keep them moving forward when need be.

IB:  Which of the rookies who have played this year has been the most surprising to you?

AS: Calvin de Haan, by a long, long way. I know this team is severely underachieving, but they might be worse without de Haan’s emergence. He’s had plenty of bumps, but he handles them very well. He has an ability to shrug off mistakes like a player beyond his years. If Griffin Reinhart comes into next season’s camp and plays as well as he did this past September, I could see the Islanders going with a very familiar group of D-men next season: de Haan, Hamonic, Reinhart, Visnovsky, Hickey, Strait, Donovan, Carkner. It’s a risk again if someone gets hurt, so I would think they’d sign a decent 5-6-7 guy, but I don’t see many changes back there, mostly because of what de Haan has done this season.

IB: Do you put John Tavares in the same class as the elite players such as Crosby and Datsyuk this early in his career or does he still have a ways to go to get there?

AS: No, he’s there — the lack of team success is obviously the main difference, since Crosby already had one Cup and two Finals by age 23, albeit with the sort of supporting cast Tavares would love. He’s in the sort of situation where, even when he doesn’t have the best individual season he’s had as in 2012-13, he’s an automatic Hart Trophy candidate because the whole world knows he’s the reason the Islanders do well. I think this season’s failure, plus the trades of two of his linemates (whenever Vanek is dealt) will only fuel his fire, not make him pout and wish to be gone from the team.

We at IslesBlog would like to thank Arthur for his time and are happy to bring our readers the thoughts and opinions from one of the team media’s  best minds.

You can read the Part 1 of our interview with Arthur Staple here and follow him on twitter –  @StapeNewday