Meet the Defense…
After last season, General Manager Garth Snow could not have been happy with the performance of his defense. He lost Radek Martinek, one of his reliable defenseman to another season ending injury just 16 games into the season. It was the 4th time in his 8 seasons he failed to play in at least 50 games. He also traded 35 year old Andy Sutton (who was finally healthy and played strong for the Islanders before his deadline deal). They waived Assistant Captain Brendan Witt and watched young defenseman Jack Hillen and Andrew MacDonald miss time down the stretch to injuries. Needless to say, the defense needed an overhaul, and Snow delivered. Here’s a look at who’ll be manning the blue line come October.
Locks to Stick…
Mark Streit 11g-38a-49pts, Jack Hillen 3g-18a-21pts, Andrew MacDonald 1g-6a-7pts, Mark Eaton 3g-13a-16pts, James Wisniewski 3g-27a-30pts, Radek Martinek 2g-1a-3pts
Streit is coming off another strong season anchoring the Islanders backline. He is one of the top offensive defenseman in the league and is able to play huge minutes. He was a 0 this past season, and considering how much he plays, that is an amazing number. He definitely suffered with his goal scoring by not having another point shot, but the team is assuming that the acquisition of Wisniewski and possibly Milan Jurcina will allow Streit more opportunity to shoot from the point. Streit is about a sure a thing the Islanders have at this point.
Hillen, an undrafted free agent signed at the end of the 2008 season, improved leaps and bounds last season. His defensive play was outstanding from his recall and he never looked back. He has fantastic speed and although he’s on the smallish side, he can handle himself in the corners and in his own end. He’ll definitely be a second paring (probably with MacDonald) and he’ll see both PP and PK time.
Andrew MacDonald was drafted by the Islanders at the urging of former coach Ted Nolan. Nolan coached MacDonald in Juniors and felt he had what it would take to be an NHL defenseman. He was right. As we saw after his recall, MacDonald he a very cool customer, he plays a very smart game and doesn’t try to be too fancy. He makes a great outlet pass, and his skating is strong. Snow was so impressed, he signed MacDonald to a 4 year contract extension during his rookie campaign. Expect A-Mac to be anchor for years to come on Long Island.
Most of the fans in my section said the same thing the past few years, we need that steady guy. Nothing flashy, just a steady 22 minute a night defenseman. Mark Eaton is that guy. He’s a Stanley Cup winner, and knows what it takes to take a young promising team to the playoffs and beyond. I can see Eaton being paired with a Martinek or MacDonald and being rock out there. He isn’t the sexy name fans wanted (like Hamhuis, Martin or Volchenkov), but he’ll be just as important.
James Wisniewski might be the steal of the summer. GM Garth Snow acquired Wisniewski from the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional 3rd round pick in the 2011 draft. Wisniewski has always been a complimentary defenseman to the talented D corps of the Blackhawks and Ducks, but will now have the opportunity to show what he’s got. He’ll get plenty of ice time with the Islanders and projects to be a top pair defenseman with Mark Streit. He plays a physical game, and has some offensive skills, so a 40 point season is not out of the question. Solid pick up for the Isles.
If you ask an Isles fan what your 3 constants in life are, Paying taxes, hating the Rangers and losing Radek Martinek to a season ending injury sometime before Valentine’s Day. Martinek has had season ending injuries the past 2 seasons and is only averaging 47 games a season over his 8 year career. He is an extremely effective puck moving defenseman, and has given fits to the likes of Ovechkin and Malkin over the years. If he can stay healthy he’s a huge addition to this team, but unfortunately you can’t expect much more than his average of 47 games.
Fighting for Playing Time…
Bruno Gervais 3g-14a-17pts, Milan Jurcina 1g-6a-7pts, Dylan Reese 2g-2a-4pts, Dustin Kohn 0g-4a-4pts
A few years ago, I can remember talking to friends about the promise of our young defenseman Chris Campoli and Bruno Gervais. Campoli as we all know was traded to Ottawa where he has realized his problem wasn’t playing for the Islanders, and we have been able to watch Bruno grow up over the past few years. On the ice though, he has definitely taken a step backwards. He’s a great kid with a hell of a personality, but he in my opinion is not in the top 6 defenseman coming into camp. Plus, if you take into consideration that rookies, Calvin deHaan and Travis Hamonic are both signed to their entry level contracts and both should make their NHL debuts in the next 18 months, it would seem that Bruno’s time on Long Island is drawing to a close. He’ll most likely be this year’s Freddy Meyer, thrust into duty when another defenseman goes down with an injury.
After last season, Snow drew attention to the fact the Islanders needed to add some size, Milan Jurcina has size. He’s 6’4” 233lbs. He has a rocket of a shot and has never been able to fully put it together. He’s been reunited with his AHL coach Scott Gordon, and is hoping for an opportunity to play and take a step forward. He’ll be a 7th defenseman on this team.
Dylan Reese was the Islanders only deadline acquisition last year, and was thrust into action due to an injury to MacDonald. He spent the rest of the season with the Islanders and had 4 points in 19 games and was an impressive +4 during that span. There’s nothing flashy about his game, but he can definitely fill in on the Isles blue line for an extended period of time if need be.
Kohn’s rookie season came to an abrupt end at the hands of Rangers forward Sean Avery. Kohn was injured on a play that I can only describe as not clean and went without suspension. He most likely will be back in Bridgeport this coming season with Reese, but I don’t think he’s played his way out of this organization with his callup last year.
Knocking on the Door…
Calvin deHaan 5g-19a-24pts 34gms. Oshawa, Travis Hamonic 11g-33a-44pts 41gms Moose Jaw/Brandon
Calvin deHaan was the Islanders second 1st round pick in 2009 after John Tavares. He played extremely well in training camp last year and really tempted the Islanders to keep him on the roster. At the end of camp the Isles thought best to send him back to Juniors to develop some more and play on the Canadian World Junior Team. He and his teammate Travis Hamonic (who we’ll talk about in a minute) played a major role on that team leading to their 2nd place showing. deHaan missed some time at the WJC (as did Hamonic) with an injury, and eventually needed shoulder surgery that prematurely ended his season. After signing his entry level contract this spring, I fully expect deHaan to go back to Oshawa again to play the season he missed and make another appearance on the WJC stage.
After suffering a gruesome shoulder injury in the final seconds of their win over the Swiss junior team, Hamonic returned to his new team in Brandon and played extremely well down the stretch and into the playoffs. He even had a highlight reel hit on future 1st overall selection Taylor Hall during the Memorial Cup. Hamonic built on his strong offensive effort from a year ago scoring 44 points in just 41 games, and chipped in an additional 11 points in 15 playoff games. He signed his entry level contract with the Islanders in the spring and will spend his first camp as pro on Long Island. I am very excited about Hamonic, as he is described as a high ceiling defenseman who could walk into training camp and with little doubt win a roster spot on this team. The most likely scenario will be Hamonic starts the season in the “A” and will see a call up some time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Heading into camp the Islanders defensive corps seems set and for the first time in awhile, deep. There is a definitive top 6, a few reserves, and a couple of top prospects moving their way up. Again, this isn’t a super talented, or flashy defense, but with the addition of Wisniewski and the continued development of Hillen and MacDonald, plus with top talents like Hamonic and deHaan coming soon, the Islanders defense should be fun to watch.
I know I haven’t discussed it, but the re-signing of Jon Sim and the signing of Andy Hilbert are great additions…..to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. I don’t want to see either of these guys in an Islanders uniform this year. I agree that they would be great mentors for some of the younger guys displaying their work ethic every day, but if either of them play a significant amount of games at NVMC…something would have gone terribly wrong.
Congrats to Butch Goring on becoming the new “Color” man in the Islanders TV booth. Butch is just that, extremely colorful and should do a good job in the booth. That being said, I totally disagree with the team’s decision not to renew Billy Jaffe. Jaffe did a fantastic job and was gaining national recognition for his work. I trust he’ll land on his feet and end up with a new gig.
A note about blogging since this has become a hot topic recently. There is an article floating around (posted by Puck Daddy) about the NHL creating rules for bloggers in opposing locker rooms. I’ll keep this short and to the point. Some teams have very strict policies regarding media access, whether a blogger or a reporter from Newsday or the Daily News. Some teams grant access to bloggers for added exposure. The thing is, if the Rangers want to create rules regarding bloggers in their own building, I would say that’s fine (they already own their own cable network and newspaper to get their exposure). As for other buildings, I think they should have no control over this. They can deny interviews to whomever they wish, it’s not like with a blogger’s credential I would just walk into the Rangers locker room and start asking Sean Avery his feelings about Dion Phaneuf. Also, let me add that teams like the Islanders spend a lot of time researching and interviewing their bloggers before making their decisions. Take it from someone who just went through the process- they do their due diligence. The team ultimately is taking a risk that I’m not going to walk into the locker room and start weeping and asking for autographs. The Islanders are taking responsibility for my actions as a blogger and I have to make sure I handle myself in a professional manner, that’s the deal. They don’t tell me what to write, and I promise not to call someone a schmuck midway through a press conference. I understand some teams wanting to control what comes in and out of their locker room, and what is published and I can see their concern, but if that’s the case, they should utilize their PR department and deny interviews to bloggers, plain and simple. The NHL (which has a track record on things like this) needs to create a clear guideline here and state what is allowed and what isn’t. Bottom line, I don’t see a way the NHL can turn away the exposure they get from alternative media. Sites like Puck Daddy, Spector’s Hockey, Islanders Point Blank, Hockey Independent, and even Hockeybuzz to an extent, have given the NHL more coverage than ESPN or CNNSI are willing to give, and that gives North American hockey fans their hockey fix year round.
Next Blog will cover the Islanders goaltending situation and the coaching staff. As we all know we’re headed into Scott Gordon’s final year of his contract and we’ll talk about.
Thanks again for all the comments….keep ‘em coming.
About the Author: The New York Islanders have been a huge part of my life since I was 7 years old, and during the past 27 years I have experience many ups and downs with this team. The back end of 4 straight Stanley Cups, the Drive for 5, the Easter Epic, trading of my heroes John Tonelli, and Kelly Hrudey. Mike Bossy's early retirement, Pat LaFontaine for Pierre Turgeon, Dale Hunter, David Volek, Ron Hextall, Al Arbour's retirement, Bill Torrey to Florida, Mike Milbury, John Spano, The Milstein's, Hoistgate, the sale to Charles Wang, Draft Day 2000, Alexei Yashin and Michael Peca, Milbury's "reassignement", 40 days of Neil Smith, Ted Nolan, The Lighthouse Project, Kate Murray, Scott Gordon, going from 5 to 7 to 9, Josh Bailey, John Tavares, Calvin deHaan, El Nino, the 2 Kirill's and hopefully.....much, much more. I have been an Islanders blogger for the past 3 years, starting on Myspace, then for IslesNation.com and currently for HockeyIndependent.com, and I have been selected to the 2010-2011 New York Islanders Blog Box. I am an IT Manager for a quite large facility working for a government agency. I am married for 7 years to an incredibly patient woman and am the proud father of a beautiful 1 year old daughter. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: Twitter.com/tonystabile