Isles Lose Gem in Strait: Now What?

Talk about adding salt to the wound. The Islanders suffered two huge losses yesterday afternoon: a 7-0 defeat to their Atlantic Division rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, and defenseman Brian Strait, who took an awkward tumble into the boards, breaking his left ankle in the process.

Brian Strait has been incredible for the New York Islanders, and arguably Garth Snow’s best pick-up on the waiver-wire. Highly criticized for how he was acquired, Brian Strait was plucked off of waivers with only a few days to go before the lockout-shortened season went under way. Interestingly enough, and with only 12 NHL games of experience under his belt before joining the Islanders, Strait has been the Islanders most consistent defender on the Isles’ blue-line, and arguably the team’s best defenseman through 15 games.

Strait has played just as advertised; not flashy, and barely noticeable, but always getting the job done due to his excellent positioning. He’s made an impact on this Islanders team at even strength and on the penalty-kill. Believe it or not, Brian Strait is the Islanders only + player this season (+3). Not bad for a guy who had zero expectations on arrival.

Now, Brian Strait is expected to miss the next 6-8 weeks. In translation, his season is probably over. The Islanders find themselves battling uphill again. Where do the Isles go from here?

If you look at the current roster, the obvious answer is that the Islanders will play what they already have. Thomas Hickey and Radek Martinek have been scratches throughout the season (Radek has yet to play), and Matt Carkner is set to come off injured reserve. If you add Joe Finley, who has been active the past few games, to these names, you have four defensemen already called up to the big club.

The Islanders already announced that Thomas Hickey will be taking Strait’s place in Ottawa tonight, but there’s no guarantee that will last if he doesn’t impress. Hickey has already played 8 games for the Islanders, but hasn’t lived up to his billing of a former 4th-overall pick. Success is not definite for the offensive-defenseman, who has not registered a single point at the NHL level, and is a -5 in those 8 career games. If Hickey fails to impress, which he might, the Islanders may go the next route.

Radek Martinek is under contract with the Islanders, albeit it wasn’t until recently that he was activated off of the IR. It’s a bit unnerving that Radek, who is often the IR’s most-attended resident, found a way to get injured before he even played a game this year, and even more unnerving that he hasn’t played an NHL game since the beginning of the 2011-12 season due to injury. I mean, the guy has been in the league for 10 seasons, and only four times did he make it past 60 games.

Radek was a capable defenseman, but to say he fits this team perfectly is a bit of an overstatement. Truth is, we have no idea what to expect from the veteran defenseman, and although there was a time where we may have felt he was one of the most under-appreciate D-men in the NHL, that time has passed.

And although the Islanders are hoping to get Matt Carkner back from injured reserve soon, I don’t want to suggest that he’s an option to replace Strait. He’s not exactly positionally sound (-2), and not expected to be as reliable as Strait is. Carkner played an average of 11:21 per game compared to Strait’s 17:11.

Carkner’s a tough defenseman, but not capable enough to fill the hole Strait leaves us on the ice. When Carkner comes back, he will probably replace Finley who, despite the Islanders desire to see him succeed, remains a very big project.

Of course, the Isles can always do what the fans are calling for: Matt Donovan, who remains in the AHL and is a +7 for the Sound Tigers. Admittedly, I would love to see Donovan back on NHL ice. I thought he looked good in his 3 NHL games to finish the season, and I thought we would see him up here for sure sooner than later.

The AHL All-Star has not been recalled yet, but his season debut was probably stalled by the amount of waiver-wire pickups the Islanders claimed right before the season started. Will we see Donovan this season? It’s still possible, but we will have to wait and see. He does remain an option, though, so if Hickey doesn’t work out, the Islanders may very well turn to him for some help.

Regardless of what the Islanders decide to do, I don’t think I can understate how well Strait was playing for this team. Garth found a gem, and we lost it, at least for 2013. With their top defensemen struggling, the Isles need all the help they can get. At this point, Isles fans can only hope that lightning strikes twice, and another no-name blue-liner makes a big impact on the ice.

Follow @ChrisTriants

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About the Author: Writes at Islanders Op-Timism. Islanders Season Ticket Holder who tends to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hofstra Graduate currently working at Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl & Associates. I definitely want to end up working within the world of hockey. Blog: www.IslandersOptimism.com E-Mail: ChristopherTriantafilis@gmail.com Twitter: @ChrisTriants

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