Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
It's about this time of year, in this type of season the Islanders are having, when fans start chattering about the loaded "T" word: Tanking.
As in, losing games to obtain a better draft position. It's a common discussion on message boards and Twitter as Isles-watchers pore over possible draft slots and whom the team might take.
Of course, that word is forbidden in every locker room. No coach or player discusses it or even thinks it. If you've got a roomful of guys willing to roll over in the final dozen games, those guys won't be around to play alongside that No. 1 or No. 2 overall pick.
So even after Tuesday's 6-0 shelling by the Wild, there was and is no sense of surrender. Jack Capuano and his coaching staff put the players through a rigorous practice on Wednesday and another one on Friday to remind the current Islanders that there are still things they need to show before this disappointing season ends.
"I think we got the message," Matt Martin said. "It wasn't so much the score [on Tuesday], it was the way we played those last two periods. We have to play for one another in here these last 12 games."
Islanders general manager Garth Snow, Jack Capuano and the coaching staff have plenty of evaluation time over this last stretch, with the Isles battered by injuries and in need of rookies to fill spots. Lubomir Visnovsky is out again with an upper-body injury, possibly opening another defense slot for a Bridgeport call-up.
Not that veterans have any reason to relax. Snow has plans to wheel and deal at the June 27 draft, armed with as many as eight picks in the first four rounds. There have been enough underachievers among the veteran group that some of those Islanders could be moved out this summer.
The Islanders sat in 27th entering Saturday's games, just two points from 29th. The Sabres appear to have 30th locked up, thus giving them the best chance to win the draft lottery.
Snow has until June 1 to notify the Sabres whether the Islanders are sending this year's first-round pick to Buffalo to complete the Thomas Vanek deal or deferring the pick to 2015. All indications are the Islanders are keeping this year's pick.
But that still doesn't mean the Isles will deliberately field a lousy lineup to make that pick as good as possible. On April 10, though, the Isles visit the Canadiens, who will send a second-round pick to the Islanders if Montreal makes the playoffs to complete their Vanek trade.
With a game in Newark the following night, fully expect Anders Nilsson to start in goal in Montreal.
That's not tanking. It's common sense.
Czuczman trying to relax
Kevin Czuczman's NHL debut didn't feature a result to remember, but the newly signed defenseman took it as a positive.
"I just need to tell myself to relax and keepi playing. I think I was worried too much about where I was and where I was supposed to be," he said. "It's still hockey. That's what I need to keep telling myself."
Czuczman played 20:06, fueled primarily by Brian Strait leaving with a broken hand in the first periods. The 23-year-old out of Lake Superior State, who signed as a free agent with the Islanders last week, will get plenty more nights of heavy minutes in the last 12 games given the injuries on defense. That should allow him to catch up to the pace of the NHL game.
"The biggest difference to me was the speed that guys come with through the neutral zone," Czuczman said. "In college, one or maybe two lines have that speed. Here it's all four lines."
The end of the black jersey
The Islanders' much-discussed (most often maligned in those talks) black third jerseys will make their 24th and final appearance on Sunday at the Coliseum. The jerseys were introduced in the 2011-12 season and have not exactly been good-luck charms.
The team is 7-11-5 wearing the black alternate jerseys the past three seasons, though that isn't far off from the Isles' overall home record during that span, as they are 37-47-17 at the Coliseum since the introduction of the sweater.
Even though the Stadium Series third jerseys are far more popular with fans, the Islanders are 0-3-0 in those so far. That alternate jersey will be the third jersey now. NHL guidelines stipulate that teams can change alternate jerseys every three years.