The Knicks Fix: Jackson Lays Out The New Phil-Osophy

Alacrity.

That’s one of several words that Phil Jackson used to describe the attitude he is seeking from players as he embarks on revamping the roster. Alacrity describes an eagerness, a readiness and, most importantly, a willingness to play the game the right way.

Jackson brought in Jose Calderon, whom he says will “fit into what we’re trying to do” on the court, mainly on offense. There are reports that say the Knicks may attempt to target Pau Gasol, an unrestricted free agent who, at 33, is still considered one of the best passing big men in the game.

Gasol struggled with his game after Jackson and his philosophy left the Lakers, so a move to New York may be appealing to him. The hang-up of course is how the Knicks are restricted in what they may offer him because they are over the salary cap. But they could work a sign-and-trade in this scenario if the Lakers are willing. Gasol made $19.2 million last season and if he is looking to stay above $10 million, it could be an extremely difficult deal to make for both sides.

The Knicks have their mid-level exception to offer, but not much else unless it comes by way of a trade, to make upgrades to the roster. Their target area likely will be modest as they try to protect as much of the cap space awaiting in 2015 when two major contracts – Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani – melt off the payroll.

But Jackson did say he may be more aggressive this summer to add a free agent if something develops via trade.

 “We have many handicaps obviously with our salary cap being what it is,” he said. “But, you know, there’s always a possibility. We’re not going to rule ourselves out of any [situation] that could put us in the chance to really do something special.”

Might that be Gasol?

Free agency officially begins at 12:01 a.m. ET July 1 and a lot of teams begin business on the West Coast (9:01 p.m. PT on June 30). Primarily, Jackson and the Knicks have one of the biggest names in free agency to deal with in Carmelo Anthony, but there is work to be done in other areas to make sure Melo sees the progression of Jackson’s plan.

Reports say Melo will begin free agency on Tuesday, talking to the Bulls in Chicago. He will then head to Texas on Wednesday to chat with the Mavericks and the Rockets, which I would file under “Due Diligence.” Reports say he will also talk to the Lakers in Los Angeles sometime next week.

Why wait until next week? The free agency signing moratorium lifts on July 10. That is when teams can officially sign free agents. It is also the day before the NBA Summer League begins in Las Vegas.

Melo has met with Jackson and coach Derek Fisher

on several occasions already and Jackson has maintained personal communication with Melo as well.

“We have every confidence that Carmelo is good for what his word is, that he wants to be in New York, that he likes playing in New York,” Jackson said. “He wants to compete, he wants to be part of a playoff team that’s bound and competitive towards a championship.”

Regardless of who is in uniform next season for the Knicks, the game will be different than what we’ve seen in recent years. We can recall when Mike D’Antoni arrived and how the Seven Seconds or Less (SSOL) offense was supposed to light up The Garden. It did on some nights, but not nearly consistently enough and mainly to the detriment of defensive positioning.

Some may point out that Melo came off disenchanted by the system, to suggest that’s why it didn’t work, but Jackson isn’t enamored by it, either. There is a defensive imbalance caused when you bury two players deep in the corners for three-point outlets and teams can exploit that on average to mediocre shooting nights.

The SSOL did rely on selfless ball-movement, but so much of it was predicated on the ball-dominance of the point guard in high screen-and-roll attacks. Melo found himself a spectator too often and that’s not a comfortable place for a scorer. Want another example? See Jamal Crawford in early 2008-09, before he was traded. Crawford told me he struggled on the wing, trying to figure out how to get his shots while Chris Duhon and David Lee ran pick-and-roll all game long. Zach Randolph experienced the same issues early on.

What Jackson hopes to implement with the Triangle Offense as a foundation – this won’t be an exclusive system, mind you, they will run other basic stuff – is a flow of movement by all five players on the court while maintaining a balance that keeps the team protected in defensive transition. The catch is all five players have to be committed to the movement and the responsibilities of the balance.

That’s where the selflessness comes in. It goes beyond making the extra pass, which is something, if you’ve been paying attention, Melo never has had an issue doing since he joined the Knicks.

Here’s Jackson, describing his philosophy, last week:

“We want to have a certain sense of offensive alacrity where we’re getting up and down the court and challenging defenses to get back and protect the basket,” Jackson said. “We’re not comfortable just setting up in a half-court situation, even though we feel we have one of the best half-court scorers in Carmelo.

“We know that basketball is a 94-foot game and you have to play it that way. So those are some of the messages we’re sending out there and to do that we’ve asked our players about the condition they have to be in, the defenses we’re going to require and that our offense requires ball-movement and player-movement. It’s not going to be a static game that they play, so they’re going to have to be in great condition to play it.”

That last part provides yet another reason why Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton were jettisoned. Chandler often did not consistently run hard in transition and Felton’s conditioning was a major issue last season.

Melo is going to have to push himself even more in this area, but as for players who remain, J.R. Smith might thrive in this system because he’s much better in transition than in half-court. Iman Shumpert’s conditioning was questioned last season, but when he is in shape, his game is also better suited for motion.

The mistake last season was that the players arrived for training camp thinking the new season started there. They were wrong. The new season always starts in July.

So here we go.

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Knicks Go With Grecian Formula at 48

Spero Dedes has a perpetual smile (and if you got to live his life, you would too), but it seemed a little wider after the Knicks drafted Kostas Papanikolaou with the 48th pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft.

Spero, of proud Greek heritage, and I were together in Manhattan filming a commercial for MSG Network (look for it next week) and we could practically hear the boos from Knicks fans rolling across the Hudson River from the Prudential Center. This is tradition, of course. Jets fans ain’t got nothin’ on you.

But before we explain why this is an intelligent move by Glen Grunwald and his staff, let’s revisit the history of the 48th pick that we laid out for you in the previous Fix. Only one player taken at No. 48 since 2000 has emerged as a bona fide NBA talent. One. His name is Marc Gasol.

The Lakers drafted Gasol in the 2007 Draft and he never played a single game for them. He remained in Spain for another season and then his rights were sent to Memphis in a deal that locked up another title for Kobe Bryant & Co. The Lakers acquired Marc’s older brother, Pau. Marc then joined the Grizzlies in 2008-09 and has since grown into an All-Star caliber center.

Fingers off the keyboard!

This is not to suggest that Papanikolaou is comparable to Marc Gasol, but it is meant to explain how sometimes it’s better to stash an asset than draft a player who may have to get cut in training camp. Grunwald said the scouting staff did not see anyone left on the board who had enough potential to be an impact player on this roster — that’s not to say players such as Scott Machado,Tu Holloway and Darius Johnson-Odom won’t make someone’s roster and we’re not here to disparage anyone — so Papanikolaou was the right play.

He will remain with his team, Olympiacos, for at least another season before the option of a buyout is possible. Meanwhile, the Knicks retain his rights and have time to monitor him, work with him and, potentially, trade him before a decision needs to be made in bringing him over.

For those who know little about him, Papanikolaou, 21, is a 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward who has a nice shooting touch and plays with a nice level of grit. He isn’t quite NBA-material on a strictly athletic level, but he is a workhorse who will defend, run the floor hard and can hit the three (sounds a lot like last year’s second-round pick, Josh Harrellson).

DraftExpress.com, which does extensive work on the NBA Draft and includes European players, listed his best-case comparable to Omri Casspi. In other words, a really nice complimentary player. On a star-laden roster, those kinds of players fit best.

But the question that remains isn’t just will Papanikolaou ever put on a Knicks uniform, but will he prove to have any value to the Knicks? Then and only then can this pick be properly judged.

CONNECT THE DOTS

This year’s first-round pick was the property of the Houston Rockets, who selected forward Royce White at No. 16 overall. It’s always an uneventful Draft when your team doesn’t own a first-rounder, but for fun let’s follow the result of trading this pick from its origin:

• Feb. 18, 2010:
Knicks traded the 2012 first round pick, Jared Jeffries and Jordan Hill to the Houston Rockets in a three-team deal that returned the expiring contracts of Tracy McGrady and Sergio Rodriguez. It cleared an additional $9 million in salary cap space for the coming offseason.

• July 10, 2010:
After signing free agent Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks use their extra cap space (afforded by the above deal) to sign free agent Raymond Felton.

• Feb. 21, 2011:
Knicks agree to include Felton in Carmelo Anthony trade, which results in Chauncey Billupscoming in the deal from the Denver Nuggets.

• Dec. 10, 2011:
Knicks place Billups on amnesty waivers, which clears the room to execute a three-team deal to acquire free-agent center Tyson Chandler in a sign-and-trade.

So if you follow the money, the 2012 first-round pick turned into Chandler, the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year.

SETTLEMENT ON TAP?

As we explained in last Friday’s Fix, the NBA and NBA Players Association are expected to reach a settlement in the Bird Rights case to avoid a lengthy appeal process that could disrupt free agency.

Jeremy Lin is expected to be awarded Early Bird Rights, which means the Knicks can sign him under Bird Rights rules and not have to use an exception to keep him. Steve Novak could also maintain Bird Rights as well. Huge win for the Knicks, who can use their exceptions to go after other free agents to bolster the roster.

This will make for a very, very interesting free-agency period for the Knicks. We’ll outline everything when free agency opens on Sunday.

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NBA Draft: 48th Parallel for the Knicks

Though mostly forgotten, Brian Quinnett was a good-shooting, though athletically-limited wing player from Washington State who had a modest three year NBA career that was highlighted by a 20 point game against Michael Jordan and the Bulls on April 4, 1991.

We invoke his memory today, hours before the 2012 NBA Draft, because he holds a place in Knicks history as the last player the Knicks selected beyond the 48th pick — which is the team’s only choice in this year’s draft — who made the roster and had any semblance of a career.

Quinnett and this year’s draftee will have an immediate connection as the lowest single draft picks the franchise has ever made. In 1989, Quinnett was taken 50th overall by former GM Al Bianchi in a year where the Knicks first round pick (No. 22 overall) was owned by the Portland Trail Blazers as part of the Kiki Vandeweghe trade. (The Blazers picked Byron Irvin, who played three seasons, had success overseas and is now an agent who represents Shawn Marion, Al Harrington, Jason Terry and others. He is also, by the way, Doc Rivers’ cousin.)

The Knicks this year do not own a first round pick (it went to the Houston Rockets in the salary dump trade for Tracy McGrady in March 2010) so while the draft begins at 7 p.m. for the NBA, it’ll be hours before the Knicks war room stirs with any real activity. Though some fans thirst for those wild draft nights, when commissioner David Stern says those four magical words — “WE HAVE A TRADE . . .” — there is a very low expectation that the Knicks will be involved in any of the action that’s being anticipated tonight.

Let’s address some FAQ’s right here:

Q: Can’t the Knicks buy a first round pick?

A: No, they can’t. In the new CBA, cash considerations have been capped at $3 million per season, which is July 1-June 30. The Knicks used their $3 million in the moves to land Tyson Chandler in December. So they can’t use any money in any kind of transaction until after July 1. That includes buying picks in this draft.

Q: Why won’t the Knicks be more aggressive on draft night with so many first round picks reportedly available?

A: For one, they don’t have the kind of assets lottery teams are looking for to make that kind of a deal. Secondly, first round picks immediately become guaranteed contracts that count against the cap for the next three to four years. So for any pick from No. 20 to No. 30, it’s between $1.1 million to $850,000 guaranteed in the first season for a player you’re not sure will even crack your rotation. Second-round picks come with non-guaranteed deals, which means you can waive them with no penalty. This makes the most sense right now, especially considering the uncertainty of free agency and need to use roster spots and payroll wisely for veterans who can step in and play.

Q: What about trading Landry Fields for a first rounder?

A: As expected, Landry was extended a qualifying offer on Monday, which officially made him a restricted free agent. Players who are not under contract for the 2012-13 season can not be traded, but by qualifying Fields, the Knicks basically offer him a one-year deal just to keep him restricted. This qualifying offer (QO) can be rescinded at any time. But, to answer the question, Fields cannot be traded on draft night for a pick because he is not under contract after June 30.

Q: OK, so then trade Toney Douglas for a pick?

A: Are you not reading any of this? Enough with the picks! Certainly the Knicks would consider moving up in the second round if it meant, say, giving up a future second rounder and the No. 48, but there would have to be someone they feel is a can’t-miss roster player. Marc Berman of the New York Post has tossed out names such as Darius Johnson-Odom, Hollis Thompson and Kevin Murphy has potential targets. All three are projected to be taken before the Knicks are on the board at 48, so if there is an opportunity to slide up a few spots to get one of these (or other) possible targets, perhaps we’ll see some action. But don’t expect anything bigger than that right now and don’t expect Douglas to be an asset used for that type of move.

Q: Fine, so now that you’ve ruined my anticipation for tonight’s draft, can you at least tell me if the Knicks get a quality player at No. 48?

A: History suggests you probably shouldn’t rush out and buy the guy’s jersey at NBA.com. Since 2000, only one time has a 48th pick emerged as a bona fide NBA player. In fact, this one pick turned out to be a very good one — and all-star, actually — but not for the team that selected him. It was in the 2007 NBA Draft that the Lakers selected Marc Gasol at No. 48. The following year his rights were traded to the Memphis Grizzlies for his brother, Pau. Marc made his NBA debut that season (2008-09) and the deal worked out well for both teams.

Now, that’s not to say there is no chance you can land a quality player this late in the draft. Let’s check history once more. I have found at least 15 players since the 2000 draft who were selected beyond No. 48 and emerged as bona fide NBA players. A few: Rasual Butler (No. 52, 2002), Luis Scola (No. 55, 2002), James Jones (No. 49, 2003), Kyle Korver (No. 51, 2003), Marcin Gortat (No. 57, 2005), Ramon Sessions (No. 56, 2007), Isaiah Thomas (No. 60, 2011).

Knicks history has Brian Quinnett and beyond him we dug up some other interesting late gems: Kurt Rambis (No. 58, 1980), Frank Brickowski (No. 57, 1981) and Ken “The Animal” Bannister (No. 156, 1984).

As far as “targeting” a certain position, you really don’t do that at No. 48. As several NBA executives told me, when you get that deep in the draft, you go for the guy with this label: Best Player Available.

So while many of you have asked me who the Knicks may go after in the draft, that is impossible to answer until we see who is still in play.

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An Appeal for Bird Rights Settlement

Could free agency be delayed by the NBA’s appeal of the recent Bird Rights arbitration hearing?

It’s possible. The NBA Players Association could request an injunction on behalf of the players involved, including Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak, to delay free agency until the appeal process is completed.

The NBA’s appeal could take weeks, possibly months, according to several people with knowledge of the situation on both sides. A panel has to be assembled, the sides have to present their cases and a decision has to be rendered after review. This isn’t something that comes together quickly and with July 11 — the first official signing day — just over two weeks away, there is little chance for closure on this issue in time.

The union would not want to open free agency without a resolution and, privately, the Knicks would prefer to wait until they have a definitive answer so they can execute the proper offseason plan. In the midst of an appeal, the CBA says the Knicks need to follow the letter of the law until further notice. That means they would have to use their Mid-Level Exception to re-sign Lin, which could lead to them losing out on other impact free agents, such as Jason Kidd or Lamar Odom.

What if the appellate panel upholds the decision of arbitrator Kenneth Dam? The NBA would have a major controversy on its hands. Sure the Knicks may have their MLEs back in play, but what if all their top priority targets were already signed elsewhere?

So rather than halt the free agency season while arguing over a definition (the word “trade” as used in the collective bargaining agreement) and negatively impact a franchise’s ability to conduct business, the best case scenario for everyone involved is for the NBA and NBPA to meet and negotiate a settlement in this case.

One reasonable resolution could be for the NBA to grant the arbitrator’s decision be effective strictly for the 2012-13 season, if the NBPA accepts that henceforth, the accepted rule is that Bird Rights transfer only via trade and not via waivers.

It is such a rare case that we may never see this come up again anyway. Players claimed off waivers don’t usually develop a value where Bird Rights are an issue. But this season the emergence of Lin and Novak have created such a scenario, so a one-time exclusion may become the only time it ever comes up again.

The NBA had the right to appeal the decision and followed standard operating procedure. There is a dangerous precedent that could be set by this result because it would open the door for other ambiguities in the CBA to be challenged by the union. The league could not afford to shrug off the decision; especially one that it felt was not an ambiguity.

The NBA feels confident about the appeals process, but as one league source told me, “We didn’t think we’d lose in the first place.” The league fought the Chris Dudley trade to the Knicks in 1997 and after it lost in arbitration — coincidentally Kenneth Dam presided over that as well — the NBA appealed and the decision was upheld.

This time around, with so much uncertainty and too many variables, it seems unlikely that this appeal will ever reach full execution. The sides simply need to get together and, as they did so often six months ago, negotiate a settlement.

J.R. OPTS OUT, BUT WILL STAY IN

J.R. Smith will not pick up the second year of his deal, the New York Times reported on Monday, and will become a free agent on July 1. Smith signed for the pro rated (and shortened season-adjusted) mini-Mid Level Exception in March. He was scheduled to earn $2,443,952 next season.

Don’t be surprised by this decision, but don’t take that to mean he won’t be a Knick next season. Smith could still remain a Knick by re-signing for 120 percent of his previous salary, which would give him a bump to $2,806,452. That is $362,500 more in his pocket than if he picked up his second year option. Right now, that $2.8 million number will serve as his cap hold until he re-signs (or signs with another team).

J.R. has enjoyed being close to his family in New Jersey and regularly said he’d like to stay with the Knicks. What he had to do is make a business decision and it appeared to be a simple one to make.

FIXINS

• Linsanity has gone from a hashtag that trended world wide to an officially registered trademark in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. As reported by the New York Times, Jeremy Lin in February filed to register “Linsanity.” He is now the owner of his own brand and you can expect it to re-emerge with ubiquity by next season as his newly-hired marketing agent, Jim Tanner, will be in charge of growing Linsanity to Air Jordan levels around the globe. You know what would be great? If Lin grew to a similar level on the court.

• Speaking of trademarks, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James couldn’t enjoy their championship without at least one shot at the expense of the Knicks. During a postgame interview on NBA TV, with Matt Winer, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley, the topic came up about how Miami had moments during the playoffs when there was great doubt they could advance.

Barkley pointed out how people thought the Heat might lose to the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics after Miami trailed in both series. Then Wade giggled said: “Don’t forget New York. They said we can lose to New York, too.”

To which LeBron added, “They said that would be a tough series.” More laughing ensued.

“Nobody who knew anything about basketball said that,” Barkley then said, which had the panel hysterical.

Let me remind you here, LeBron was the one in July 2010, before Carmelo Anthony’s wedding, who brashly told his buddies Melo and Chris Paul that if they wanted any chance to win a title against the new-formed Heatles, they should team up with Amar’e in New York. Hours later, Paul made a famous toast. Weeks later, Melo told the Nuggets he wanted to be traded to the Knicks.

I’m telling you now, we’ve only just begun.

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CASE OF THE EX: BARKLAGE STARS IN WIN VS. FORMER TEAM

HARRISON, NJ – In sports, there’s always a story about one team’s rubbish becoming another team’s gold.

From Jeremy Lin to Victor Cruz to R.A. Dickey, sometimes a star falls out of the sky and into the lap of a fortunate team in desperate need of their talents. Brandon Barklage is quickly becoming that star for the Red Bulls.

After being released by DC United in December, Barklage was signed by the Red Bulls at the start of the 2012 campaign under the recommendation of assistant coach Mike Petke as a right-sided midfielder. Moved to right back in an emergency situation against the New England Revolution on April 24, the St. Louis native has since taken to his new role and has made his presence in the lineup undroppable.

The Red Bulls have been the beneficiaries. Since Barklage’s insertion into the starting lineup, New York has a 6-1-2 record and vaulted to the top of the Eastern Conference. His team captain couldn’t help laud the praises of one of New York’s biggest contributors during the run.

“The guy at the beginning of the season wasn’t a starter, but I can tell you, in training, he was working very hard,” Thierry Henry said. “In the end, when you work hard, you get what you deserve … what he’s been doing out of position has been outstanding.

The 25-year-old put an exclamation point on his good run of form Sunday night, putting on a Man of the Match performance against his former club. He scored two scintillating goals – the first two of his MLS career – and helped the Red Bulls to a 3-2 win over DC. For Barklage, it was sweet revenge for a player that was considered surplus to requirements in the nation’s capital.

“This is the date that I definitely circled on the calendar,” Barklage said after the game. “ I knew I was going to give it 110 percent, and whatever happened, happened … it feels unbelievable to do it against a team that told me at the end of the year I couldn’t cut it.”

Dax McCarty knew how much the game meant to Barklage. A former DC United player himself, McCarty was full praise for his goalscoring teammate.

“You can’t help but look at his story and feel great,” he said. “What a performance from him. It’s a little bit of vindication for him, especially the way he was released from DC. He comes from two ACL injuries and [Sunday], he was the Man of the Match for us.

Barklage’s first strike came in the 20th minute off an out-swinging corner kick from Joel Lindpere. Running into the box, Barklage acrobatically volleyed the ball past DC United goalkeeper Bill Hamid to equalize for New York.

Despite being just his second goal of his career, Barklage said he knew exactly what we wanted to do when he hit the screamer.

“The ball popped up 25, 30 feet in the air and I had one thing on my mind and that was to shoot the ball. Luckily I concentrated well enough to put the ball in the back of the net.”

His former teammate, Chris Pontius, wasn’t surprised.

“I know he can hit a ball,” Pontius said. “He’s one of those guys when in practice he’d line up and you question whether you should get in the way or get out of the way. I’ve seen him hit the ball like that and he struck it well.

With his experience as a midfielder, Barklage has the instinct to be a more attacking right back but said that the foremost responsibility as a defender is keep the opposing team from scoring. While his goals scored Sunday were the main talking point, his position and tackling were immaculate in the victory.

“[The goals] are obviously going to give me confidence going forward more often,” he said. “But it’s defense first in that position and I understand that.”

He may not score the rest of the season, but one thing is certainly clear: the Red Bulls have found their right back for the foreseeable future and a pretty darn good one with a fearsome shot.

 

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Players Association’s Win in Court Has Huge ‘Linpact’

Just as a front came through New York City with heavy, cooling rains to wash away the oppression of the Heat, an arbitrator’s decision cleared the way for the Knicks to continue to build and potentially challenge a championship won in Miami the night before.

Kenneth Dam’s ruling in favor of the NBA Players Association stance that Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak do retain their Early Bird Rights was not just a win for the players’ union, but also for the Knicks. The move unshackled their ability to be players, and potentially significant players, in free agency this offseason.

If you’re just joining this conversation now, please refer to this blog we posted about the arbitration hearing last week. It will get you up to speed.

Now let’s explain what this means for the Knicks going forward:

The Knicks can re-sign Lin, a restricted free agent, without having to use their Mid-Level Exception. So if a team attempts to sign Lin to an offer sheet (up to the league average), the Knicks can match that contract without any restrictions. The same goes for Novak.

If the arbitrator had ruled in favor of the NBA and Lin did not maintain his Early Bird Rights, the Knicks would be extremely limited this offseason. Basically, they would be at the mercy of opposing teams signing Lin to an offer sheet that would cost the Knicks their entire full MLE. That, in turn, would trigger a clause in the NBA which caps non-taxpaying teams that use the full MLE to a limit of $4 million over the luxury tax threshold. So not only would the MLE be gone, but there would be very little room to do anything else, even with the $1.9 million Bi-Annual Exception and veteran’s minimum deals.

This is why the arbitrator’s decision is such a huge win for the Knicks.

By Lin maintaining Early Bird Rights, the team still has both exceptions, the MLE (either $3 million or $5 million) and the BAE, but it is still tricky here. The team will not likely use the full $5 million exception because of that clause we just mentioned that triggers the hard cap.

[Technically, the Knicks could use the full MLE, but it would be a great risk. Why? Because if they are held at the instituted hard cap, they can not add any more players for the entire 2012-13 season. This means if a player is injured, you can not sign a free agent to a veteran’s minimum or even a D-League player to a 10-day contract.]

Instead, expect the Knicks to go with the $3 million tax-payer MLE, which would not trigger the $4 million apron and hard cap. It would allow them to sign a free agent at $3 million, use the $1.9 million bi-annual to sign another player and still have the luxury of adding as many veteran’s minimum contracts as they please throughout the season. Trust me, this matters, especially when a player is amnestied or waived after the trade deadline.

So how do the Knicks sign Steve Nash with only the $3 million mid-level? The answer is simple: they don’t.

Instead, look for the Knicks to talk to several veteran point guards, from Jason Kidd to Raymond Felton, and possibly former Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom or veteran shooter Ray Allen, with the MLE and BAE in their pocket. Will they be enough to make a significant move? That remains to be seen. That depends on whether some of these veterans want to be part of taking on the Miami Heat. They are the new standard in the East and the Knicks know they have to build to beat them.

This is why I also look forward to seeing if Glen Grunwald and his crafty group can come up with another Tyson Chandler-type plan, using some of the other assets on this team. Consider the value in Landry Fields ($2.6 million qualifyer), Toney Douglas‘ expiring contract ($2 million) and non-guaranteed money in Dan Gadzuric ($1.3 million), Josh Harrellson ($762,195) and Jerome Jordan ($762, 195).

If a team is looking to sell and take nothing back, the Knicks have the pieces, plus $3 million in cash considerations, to put on the table. It’s not much, but as the Heat showed us, stars can get you far in this league, but a solid supporting cast (Shane BattierMike Miller) can get you to the top.

So as of now, the Knicks believe they can count on bringing back its starting five, plus one major piece of that Mobb Deep bench if Novak is interested. J.R. Smith has until Tuesday to decide whether he will pick up his $2.5 million option for next season or become a free agent. Even if he does not pick up the option and becomes a free agent, the Knicks can re-sign Smith for a 120-percent raise. In my opinion, it’s safe to pencil Smith in right now.

Jared Jeffries was a solid defensive big off the bench and has a place here, too, if he wants to return.

What this decision means is the Knicks have options they would not have had available had the arbitrator ruled in favor of the NBA. And they’re not completely in the clear yet because the NBA announced it planned to appeal the decision by Dam, so the case will be brought to an appellate panel for review.

The league has to appeal this, not only because it’s general practice to appeal when the right to appeal is theirs, but also because if they dismiss this loophole, they set a precedent for the NBPA to challenge several other possible ambiguities in the CBA.

There is still a little over two weeks before free agents can be officially signed, but the clock is ticking and the NBA knows it is unfair to have a team, and free agents, go into free agency uncertain of status. As for now, the ruling stands and Jeremy Lin’s future as a Knick is almost certainly secured

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Rangers-Devils-Isles: Caught In The Draft

 

@StanFischler

It likely will be months — if not years — before we know who won in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft which began on Friday night in Pittsburgh. But for now, at least, we know who was catchable among the Locals.

Picking in fourth place — first among the three Met Area teams — Islanders general manager Garth Snow plucked defenseman Griffin Reinhart, son of former NHL backline ace Paul Reinhart. Standing 6-foot-4, 207 pounds, Griffin is feared for his tremendous shot, which would look good on the Nassau power play. Griffin is considered ready to leap right on to Jack Capuano’s starting four.

As adroit on the attack as well as defense for the Edmonton Oil Kings, Reinhart made enormous strides during the 2011-2012 season, pacing the Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup round. Scouts caution that Griffin could use a bit of a nastier streak.

Snow is hopeful that Griffin follows in his father’s skate steps. Paul Reinhart played more than 600 NHL games. His son is considered steady with the puck and has been labelled a potential Shea Weber. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Fortifying his blue line even more, Snow obtained veteran Lubomir Visnovsky, 35, from the Anaheim Ducks for a 2013 second-round pick.

Assuming that Reinhart can make the Isles’ varsity, Snow now has a potentially commendable defense led by captain Mark Streit, Travis Hamonic, Andy MacDonald and now Visnovsky.

Defensemen were in high demand. Seven out of the first 10 picks were D-Men, a record for the Entry Draft.

Of the locals, Glen Sather — after failing to nab Pittsburgh’s Jordan Staal — had to wait until the 28th call from Commissioner Gary Bettman before making his move. Thus, the Blueshirts decided on defenseman Brady (Pronounced Shay) Skjei out of Lakeville, Minnesota. He’s 6-3, 203 pounds. The Hockey News rates Skjei the best skater of all available defensemen.

“It looks like poetry watching Brady skate,” offered one scout. “He’s effortless and massive.”

Up next was Lou Lamoriello with his Devils entourage. Eighteen years after Stephane Matteau beat the Devils in the 1994 playoff classic, New Jersey selected the son of Stephane. The young Matteau, Stefan, is a 6-1, 210 pound left wing, who proved that the Draft is filled with irony. Who would ever have figured that Devils-killer, Stephane Matteau’s kid would win up as the Devs’ top pick? Un-real!

One birddog put it this way about young Matteau. “He has all the tools to be a power forward. He has enough tools to be very, very effective.”

Most of Friday night was spent waiting for a possible deal for Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan who has told the Ducks in plain English, “Move me!” Don’t be surprised if the Blueshirts help the Cherry Hill, New Jersey native head East from California.

The blockbuster deal that was completed had J-Staal going from Pittsburgh to Carolina for a first-round (eighth overall) pick this year —  Portland Winterhawks defenseman Derrick Pouliot  — Brandon Sutter and Boston College’s Brian Dumoulin. This is a terrific move for both clubs. Portland Winterhawks assistant coach and asst. GM Travis Green told me that Pouliot would go higher than the 13th slot listed by The Hockey News.

Likewise, Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford gets big Staal, a player who’ll have an expanded role in Carolina playing alongside his brother Eric. Chances are they will play on separate lines. As for Sutter, a skinny kid with excellent blood lines, his defensive work so far has outweighed his offense. It had been reported that the Rangers were interested in obtaining Jordan Staal, but no deal was concluded. When the ‘Canes added Sutter to the pot, Pittsburgh’s Ray Shero okayed the trade with Carolina.

“We didn’t want to give up Brandon,” said Rutherford. “But to get an elite player like Jordan Staal, we had give them Sutter.”

In another significant exchange, Dallas unloaded productive and creative center Mike Ribeiro to Washington for promising young pivot Cody Eakin and a second-round pick.

As for the Rick Nash Derby, the Blue Jackets’ GM, Scott Howson revealed that he still had not received a player package that made a deal worthwhile for him. He’s still waiting. You have to figure that so is Sather.

Evaluating the Top Five picks, we find some interesting selections including one obvious lead-off move.

Picking first, the perennial non-playoff Edmonton Oilers opted for the acclaimed favored right wing Nail Yakupov, who had starred for the Sarnia Sting. The Russian native is a battler who’s considered a difference-maker and is expected to make the big club next Fall. At 5-11, 190 pounds, Yakupov fulfilled his wish to go number one. “It’s unbelievable,” Yakupov said, hitting the Nail on the head.

Columbus followed in second place with a pick that many scouts thought would go as low as fourth place when Howson went for Ryan Murray. The physically strong defenseman makes the game look easy and already has been compared to Hall of Famer Mark Howe in style and temperament. This could save Howson his job. “We love Murray’s pedigree,” said Howson who figures Murray will play alongside his foundation defender, Jack Johnson.

Marc Bergevin, the rookie Montreal boss, followed third and fooled many with a forward who birddogs figured wouldn’t be picked until seventh. The scorer, Alex Galchenyuk, lacks a marquee resume and could turn into a faulty pick for Bergevin with so high a choice. Nevertheless, Galchenyuk’s supporters insist that the kid is revered for his work ethic and making his linemates better.

“We wanted a big center,” explained Bergevin, “and they’re hard to get. We did our due diligence; there’s no question, he’s the guy we wanted.”

The playoff-deprived Maple Leafs followed the Isles in fifth place and went for an offensive defenseman, Morgan Rielly who has been criticized as a one-dimensional skater whose prime asset is his passing ability. Still, Toronto hockey czar Brian Burke seemed unfazed by the critics. Like Griffin Reinhart, Rielly is a West Vancouver, British Columbia native. The pair grew up together and remain close pals.

Finally, Vancouver, which has yet to win a Stanley Cup, may yet trade veteran-disappointing goalie Roberto Luongo. But Canucks GM Mike Gillis is playing a watchful, waiting game.

“We’re listening,” Gillis concluded, “but right now I’m not sure we’ll be doing anything with Roberto.” Which leaves the disappointing Vancouver fans caught in the Draft.

If Luongo isn’t dealt, The Maven believes that it could mean that the Canucks will never win The Cup!

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Time to Move On From LeBron

It was a song Lois Blaisch first performed in Thousand Oaks, Calif., thousands of miles away from New York and light years from anything involving what we’re about to discuss. But her words matter right now.

It was the late 80s then, and this song, sung by Tiffany, was a weepy ballad of forlornness; the absence of a love lost. Of a love that never was. But a love that could’ve been …

And all these years later, when LeBron James completes his destiny tonight with the Miami Heat to win the NBA championship, I encourage you to turn down the sound on your television, watch him celebrate and play this song.

Could’ve been so beautiful
Could’ve been so right
You can’t hold what could’ve been
On a cold and lonely night…. 

After this, it will be time to let him go.

LeBron James could’ve had a red carpet rolled out for him from Cleveland to New York in 2010.  He could’ve been carried here on a palanquin mounted on the shoulders of Derek Jeter, Mark Messier, Joe Namath and Walt Frazier. He could’ve made billions — yes, that’s with a b and an s — in branding and countless business ventures. He could’ve had the key to the city and the key to our hearts.

He could’ve been the new sports icon of the biggest sports city in the universe.

And it could’ve been so beautiful. It could’ve been so right.

But that’s not what he wanted. And the only criticism that decision — not The Decision, but his actual decision — deserves is that he didn’t want to be with great people like us. It’s our civic right to feel that way.

But as LeBron stands in the shower of confetti at American Airlines Arena, with that leather-skinned Pat Riley grinning with the satisfaction he failed to deliver here, you should not besmirch the player, the game or the result.

Instead, consider why he did it.

We dismissed it as weak when he chose to join forces with fellow star Dwyane Wade in his pursuit of a championship. We called him out for not having the stuff to lift a city like New York on his broad shoulders the way Messier did and sing like Michael Jackson: If this town is just an apple, then let me take a bite.

LeBron didn’t want a bite of the Apple. He didn’t want the challenge that literally brought Patrick Ewing to his knees, brought Stephon Marbury to near insanity and now has his good friend Carmelo Anthony staying behind tinted glass as often as possible rather than strolling the streets of, as Melo once put it, “the city that made me.”

He didn’t want the promise of a billion-dollar bank account, which was something Donald Trump told him would be easiest to accomplish in New York, but confidant Warren Buffet countered it was equally possible anywhere else. Nevertheless, it was a younger LeBron who talked about wanting to be a billionaire soooo freakin’ ba-a-ad. But as he matured, he learned basketball legacy can’t be measured in finances.

What LeBron wanted was to win and this, and only this, is where Riley and the Heat had the advantage. They had Wade, who had already been to the mountaintop. They had Riley, who had been there several times, as well. They added Chris Bosh, yet another all-star. And Miami had the glitz and glamour of New York without the media intensity and state income tax.

It was, as difficult as it is to admit, a relatively easy decision.

But what could’ve been, that is the most difficult to let go. Had there been no chance, had there been no salary cap space, there is no jilted emotion. Kobe Bryant was a free agent in 2005 and all the capped-out Knicks had to offer was a Mid-Level Exception. There was no reasonable pitch to be made.

For LeBron, there were no limitations. Scott O’Neill took the floor on the morning of July 1 and drove it home like Don Draper. The Knicks identified every target on LeBron’s wish list without a single hitch. Forget what was said about Donnie Walsh’s presence in a wheelchair; that wasn’t within range of LeBron’s final decision.

It was the scheme Wade and Riley hatched that clinched it days before July 1, 2010 arrived. Tampering? Child, please. Wade had no restrictions to start firing torpedoes at all competition before the first formal meeting took place.

Actually, the genesis of LeBron James in Miami was June 15, 1995, when a fax transmission arrived at 2 Penn Plaza. Pat Riley had resigned as head coach to take on a powerful role running Micky Arison’s franchise in Miami.

Riley went for the money and power — he was given an ownership stake and full control of basketball operations — despite having a Knicks team that was championship-caliber and had gone the distance in 1994. In fact, if not for Riley’s own faults (such as: failing to utilize veteran sharpshooter Rolando Blackman as John Starks was shooting blanks in Game 7), the Knicks might have won that title.

But LeBron didn’t go for the money or the power, which is what a move to New York would have been considered. LeBron went for the chance to win a championship (not one, not two, not three…).

The method, the self-aggrandizing ESPN special, the WWE-inspired stage show, the “He Hate Me” pity, was certainly worthy of criticism. But as he disposed of the superficial clutter from the 2010-11 season, LeBron seemed to finally discover exactly what was the motivation for making this move in the first place: to win. He returned to MVP form and what we’ve seen in these NBA Finals is exactly the reason whyWalsh and the Knicks gutted the franchise just to be in the game for his services. This is a once-in-a-generation player and he’s delivering a once-in-a-generation performance in these playoffs.

And in hindsight, absent of the collective disillusionment for this Heat team and Wade’s ever-growing vilification, we have to acknowledge that two years ago LeBron, at the peak of his career, put the game ahead of his bank account. Even in New York, that is something to appreciate.

But that doesn’t mean it’s something we’re supposed to accept. With Amar’e Stoudemire, with a few other pieces and Mike D’Antoni’s offense, maybe it could’ve happened here in New York for LeBron.

Maybe it could’ve been beautiful, could’ve been right.

But it wasn’t. So it’s time to let it go.

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NHL Awards Show Recap

• MISTAKEN AWARDS, PART ONE:  Since NHL awards fail to take into account three months and four rounds worth of playoffs, the prizes become less than meaningful. A classic example has to be the mistaken vote for rookie-of-the-year.  I say “mistaken” because playoff performance is omitted.

That’s why The Maven says that Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog winning the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year is a joke. Consider this; Landeskog and his Avalanche didn’t even make the playoffs. By contrast, no player was more responsible for New Jersey not only making the post-season but reaching the Final Round than Adam Henrique. The kid who seamlessly stepped in to top center Travis Zajac’s regular-season role from the get-go merely scored two series-winning sudden-death goals over Florida and the Rangers respectively. Talk to me about Landeskog when he can come close to equalling Henrique’s feats.

• MISTAKEN AWARDS, PART TWO: The Norris Trophy was meant to be given to the best DEFENSEman in the NHL; not a backliner who really plays more like a rover than a defenseman. Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson is a talented lad, but only going in one direction; forward. Let’s face it, this kid hasn’t a clue about how to play behind his blue line, nor how to hit. Shea Weber of Nashville and Zdeno Chara do and either qualified for the best defense prize.

The Maven watched Karlsson closely in seven playoff games against the Rangers. If one player cost his team a series wins, it was Karlsson who was conspicuous by his ineffectiveness from the start to the end of the tournament.  As a power-play quarterback, he was an abysmal failure and he wasn’t so hot in all other key categories. Chara would have been a more meaningful choice, assuming that defense still counts.

• SURPLUS AWARDS, PART ONE: When does an award fall into the “One Too Many” category? Answer: Right now!

Can you believe that alongside the coveted Hart, Lady Byng, Norris and Calder Trophies, Bettman, Inc. now includes — I kid you not — what they call The EA Sports NHL13 Cover Athlete prize. You’ll be happy to know that this year’s winner was Philly’s Claude Giroux. Me? I was rooting for Ilya Bryzgalov; but don’t ask me why!

• SURPLUS AWARDS, PART TWO: There’s a Mark Messier Leadership Award and Captain Shane Doan of Phoenix was the legitimate winner. That’s fine and dandy and it should be sufficient. But, no, the league also gives away a King Clancy award —  I couldn’t make this up — for leadership and “contributions to his community” given to the Sens’ Daniel Alfredsson Wouldn’t you agree that one  leadership award is enough?

As for Alfredsson, please note this for the record, Ottawa was leading the Rangers three games to two in the opening playoff round, minus Alfredsson. Then, captain Alfie returned for Game 6. Leadership? The guy had a seen-by-all tantrum at the bench, humiliating his coach, Paul MacLean. From Alfie’s return to the finish, his Senators lost two a row and exited the playoffs Stage Left. Me? I’d go with the Messier Leadership Award. Everybody knows Mark. I remember King Clancy as a terrific defenseman, colorful referee and decent coach. Forget about leadership; why not a King Clancy Terrific Defenseman-Colorful Referee-Decent Coach award and get it over with!

• PEACE, IT’S WONDERFUL; MAYBE: There are about 2,289 theories about how the upcoming labor negotiations will go between Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr. They are all wrong because nobody — and I do mean NOBODY — knows for sure how the Collective Bargaining Agreement schmooze will go. One insider, familiar with these talks, tells me that there’ll be a “crisis” sometime this summer when all will appear gloom and doom. This chap insists that before the clock strikes 11:59 p.m. at the Sept. 15 deadline that a deal will be cut. But since nobody really can figure this in advance, The Maven will merely listen and hope.

• DOES ANYONE WANT TWO J’S? Every year on the year, Jaromir Jagr puts himself on the auction block. One year, the Kontinental Hockey League beckons; and Jags goes. Last season, it was the Flyers and Jaromir gave Ed Snider his money’s worth, especially in knocking Pittsburgh clear out of the playoffs and into Ohio.

More recently the center of Jagr-speak is Calgary where somebody planted the rumor that Two J’s would be a good fit for the Flames. Maybe yes, maybe no. But if I’m GM Jay Feaster I’d name a coach — anyone say Brent Sutter? — first before fitting JJ in with a leader he may not like.

• DRIVING A NASH: It’s been so long that a Nash automobile was manufactured that the only place you’ll find one these days is in a car museum. Likewise, it’s been so long since we started hearing Rick Nash trade rumors it seems as if the buzz-buzz started in another century.

The key here is less the player and more the general manager, Scott Howson. With his job tenuously on a gossamer string, Howie has to obtain more than a skating prune for Large Rick. The Blue Jackets’ return has to be enough to suggest that an elusive playoff berth is at least possible; if not probable for Columbus. Which is another way of saying Howson must get a marquee name who’ll play; and not a Jeff Carter either.

• AND A GOALIE, TOO: By the way, Columbus is about as weak in goal as Edmonton which means that believing Steve Mason can be a number one is roughly equivalent to naming Lady GaGa assistant coach of the Habs. (Lady can’t speak French!) The Maven figures that Howson will take a long look at either Scott Clemmensen or Marty Biron, if the Jackets are serious about moving up in the goalie world.

• ARIZONA WEATHER REPORT: The good news out of Phoenix-Glendale is that the 2012-2013 NHL schedule provides for 41 home games at — love this name! — Jobing.com Arena. That means, barring the Jobing.com Arena’s roof blowing into New Mexico, Dave Tippett’s beloved Coyotes will skate for another year in Arizona.

Ah, but the bad news is that the black cloud hovering over this embattled organization still is the troublesome Goldwater Institute which endlessly has nitpicked away at the Coyotes; and continues to do so. Until the Goldwater franchise-feeders are dismissed out of hand and Greg Jamison’s alleged fancy financiers are approved by Bettman, Inc. Phoenix-Glendale will remain Maybe-Hockey-Country. No more, no less!

• NICE GUYS DON’T ALWAYS FINISH LAST: Once upon a time a baseball manager named Leo (The Lip) Durocher utter a deathless comment — “Nice guys finish last!” — that has endured through sports history. The Lip was only partially correct. Winners of several NHL awards proved Durocher wrong.

Henrik (Vezina) Lundqvist, Ken (Adams) Hitchcock, Brian (Lady Byng) Campbell and Max (Masterton) Pacioretty are among the sweethearts of our business. If you don’t believe me, just ask media types who cover them daily. Win, lose or Shootout, Lundqvist always makes himself available, post-game, because he’s all class. The professorial Hitchcock will talk hockey with you ’til the cows come home. Campbell and Pacioretty also rank high on my NHL Goodfella Ladder. Or, as composer George Gershwin once wrote, “Who could ask for anything more?”

• THE LONG ISLAND SLEEPER: There are no “sleeping” cars on the Long Island Rail Road, but there may be an offensive “sleeper” at the Islanders’ training camp in September. Drafted in the third round, 65th overall in 2010, Moscow-born Kirill Kabanov turns 20 next month. What’s more, the gifted left wing may just be turning into a mature stickhandler who truly has found his game.

After a 55-point season for the Junior Shawinigan Cataractes and an impressive Memorial Cup showing, Kabanov will rate a long look from the Nassau high command. There’s a reasonable chance that Kabanov finally has found himself ready for the pro game. We know he has the armament; what we don’t know is whether Killer Kirill finally has learned how to shoot straight! Time will tell.

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Islanders at the Draft: Is There Another Tavares In the House?

Batting “clean-up” at the annual Entry Draft, the Islanders are in a position to — well — clean-up. Not that they’ll hit the gold mine with another John Tavares, but you never know.

Owner Charles Wang‘s club needs an A-1 defenseman which, considering the prospect field, is a good thing.

By most scouting reports, the top-three prizes are all forwards, including the Russian pair, Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko, with Sweden’s Filip Forsberg sandwiched in between.

Since Edmonton, Columbus and Montreal have the top three picks in that order, there’s every likelihood that a promising defenseman will be there for general manager Garth Snow to say “aye-aye” when Commissioner Gary Bettman comes calling.

By far the best bet — based on both The Hockey News and International Scouting Service ratings — is Ryan Murray, an 18-year-old backliner out of White City, Saskatchewan.

Pegged by several birddogs as likely to go fourth overall, Murray weighs in at 6-1, 201 pounds after three full seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips.

“Scouts unanimously believe he’ll play in the NHL for a long time,” opines The Hockey News Draft Preview.

Right behind Murray — and eminently available — are two more Canadian-reared defensemen — Matt Dumba from the WHL Red Deer Rebels and Morgan Reilly, a West Vancouver product who made a name for himself with the WHL’s Moose Jaw club.

Dumba, who unabashedly proclaims that he plays a Dion Phaneuf-style defense, loves offense as much as the physical aspect that gained Phaneuf notoriety. Rielly has been described as “dynamic’ by one scout. If there’s a debit to be found in his immediate past, it was a torn ACL injury . Nevertheless, his passion and drive will overcome that obstacle. He is, another birddog proclaimed, a “fearless playmaker.”

One of my scouts insists that the youngster “flying under the radar” is 6-4, 207 pound Griffin Reinhart, son of ex-NHL defenseman Paul Reinhart. The new edition Reinhart is a solid two-way defender who excelled with the Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL playoff champs who were knocked off in Memorial Cup competition. Griffin’s cannon point shot is his best weapon along with overall hockey smarts.

The Maven’s personal choice is not mentioned in the Murray-Dumba-Reinhart-Rielly. I’ve seen Derrick Pouliot play for the excellent Winterhawks, in-person, when I was visiting Portland, Oregon. At 5-11, 186, the Weyburn, Saskatchewan native is not physically imposing, but the kid is still growing. He helped the Winterhawks to a Conference title and has been described by The Hockey News as a “difference-maker with a good first-pass to start the play.” THN lists him at 13 whileInternational Scouting Service slots him 19th. One WHL birddog tells me, “Derrick could be better than any defenseman available.”

Speaking of defense prospects, Calvin de Haan impressed me when I interviewed him at the 2009 Draft. He was a tall, gangly prospect at the time — picked 12th overall, the year Tavares went first — who has since enjoyed the benefits of pro experience. Don’t be surprised if he makes The Show next Autumn. Calvin will be challenged by prospects Aaron Ness and Matt Donovan among others.

With number four picks in the first three rounds, Snow has the luxury of feasting on forwards as well; especially since there’s no guarantee that attractive free agent P.A. Parenteau will return to Uniondale. A best-case scenario — call it miraculous — would have Edmonton, Columbus and Montreal somehow passing on right wing Filip Forsberg. The 6-2, 181 pound, no-relation-to-Peter Forsberg is the brand of two-way forward who conceivably could wind up on Jack Capuano‘s second or third line, the Swede is so highly-rated. (Well, I can dream, can’t I?)

Ryan Strome, a 2011 winner, will get an opportunity to make the varsity. Nino Niederreiter, top Isles choice in 2010, hopefully will escape the training camp injury that — for all intents and purposes — scuttled his offense last season. With a good training camp, the large power forward could very well wind up on the top unit with Tavares and Matt Moulson.

Truth be told, Snow could reverse his choices and go for more scoring and it’s still possible that Grigorenko or Forsberg will be bypassed by the Oilers, Blue Jackets and Canadiens. But The Maven is betting that Snow would like to snare another defenseman from the Travis Hamonic mold. Selected 53rd overall in 2008, Hamonic ranks one-two with veteran Mark Streit among the club’s best defenders.

Hamonic’s blue-line partner, Andy MacDonald, is proof positive that long-shots can be rewarding. Andy Mac, who brings a solid two-way game to the ice, was ‘way down in 160th position when he was drafted in 2006.

In terms of the defense, it’s likely that Snow will not offer contracts to at least two of the four free agent D-men who skated for the club last year. That includes Mark Eaton, 35, Milan Jurcina, 29,Dylan Reese, 27, and Steve Staios, 38. My guess is that Reese will be back but I can assure you that g.m. Garth has told me nothing. (I prefer guesswork in this case.) Reese appeals to me because he’s quick, can move the puck and is not a liability in his own zone.

I call Reese — a Harvard man, no less — an improved version of ex-Isles Jack Hillen and Freddy Meyer neither of whom embarrassed themselves at the Coliseum. A training camp walk-on last September, Staios could very well request another such shot. Based on smarts and physicality, Steve just might get another viewing but the odds against Staios are understandably long.

As for the last line of defense, goaltending, Snow has provided security by re-signing capable, likable Evgeni Nabokov. If Rick DiPietro is unavailable — as he has been for too many years — either youngsters Kevin Poulin or Anders Nilsson are ready, willing and able.

Personally, I’m so sold on Poulin, I believe that he could eventually turn into Nassau’s answer toMartin Brodeur.

So, there!

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