The Islanders are just a day away from joining 29 other NHL clubs in the festivities of July 1st. To a lot of people, it is just another summer day to be enjoyed outside. For many others, it's a day meant for excitement or anguish which steals one's complete attention for TSN, Twitter and any other fast paced media outlet that will have updates on the opening of NHL Free Agency.
The Isles appear set to be parting ways with Mark Eaton, Steve Staios, Milan Jurcina and perhaps their most important free agent, PA Parenteau. The latter has served as an important member on the team's top line for the past two seasons and is coming off his biggest year, likely to command a long term contract and a significant pay raise on the open market.
The previously mentioned defenseman will not receive any grief for signing elsewhere. In fact, many Islanders fans will probably be overjoyed that they will have the opportunity to see aging veterans replaced by young, upcoming talent from within the organization.
You couldn't have been more wrong if you predicted the Islanders to take a forward in this year's draft. The Isles only selected defenseman out of all seven rounds of this year's draft. They also acquired the top four defenseman that GM Garth Snow has continuously talked about addressing in this off-season.
The first move came when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the Islanders traded their 2013 second round pick to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Lubomir Visnovsky, a 35-year old defenseman (he turns 36 in August) in the final year of his contract. Visnovsky put up six goals and 21 assists for 27 points in 68 games last year with the Ducks. The year before was even better as the Ducks d-man scored 61 points in 81 games. 2012 was a tough year overall for the Ducks, so there's reason to believe that Visnovsky can be an offensive weapon, especially on the power play.
The New York Islanders rounded out their defensive core on Friday when they traded a second round pick from 2013 to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky. Visnovsky will be entering the final year of his deal and will be possibly be a free agent when the 2013 off-season rolls around, but giving up a second rounder for a solid defenseman was worth the gamble for GM Garth Snow. (BridgetDS/Flickr)
Visnovsky provides the Isles with a veteran puck-moving defenseman and gives New York the top four d-man that they needed going into the 2012-2013 NHL season. Some might look at the trade with a furrowed eyebrow as the Islanders already had a puck moving defenseman in Mark Streit, but the move actually adds some depth to the defense and puts more accountability on a defensive group that isn't dominated by veterans such as Jurcina, Staios, Mottau, and Eaton. Much like Mark Streit, Lubomir Visnovsky is no stranger to play in the offensive zone as he has tallied 450 points in his hockey career, and 221 of those points have come with the man-advantage.
The addition of Visnovsky can definitely help the Islanders with their defensive woes as the defenseman can block his fair share of shots and throw his body around a bit as well. While Mark Streit handled the bulk of the power-play quarterbacking duties, Lubomir Visnovsky will take some much needed pressure off of New York's blue-liners, especially Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald. It is yet to be seen how the Islanders will deal with up and coming prospects such as Calvin de Haan, Aaron Ness, and Matt Donovan, but the player( that might be recalled this season could learn a thing or two from the veteran defenseman. Visnovsky has a +32 rating for his career and doesn't seem to take too many penalties, so the trade makes sense from a variety of standpoints.
What is going on with the Islanders and their prospects? Rhett Rakhshani has signed a one-year deal with HV71 in Sweden, Justin DiBenedetto is on his way to Austria and Mark Katic is going to Germany. Granted Trevor Gillies also signed to play in Russia but he was never going to see the NHL again and I think we can all agree on that. What does this mean for the players and the Islanders as an organization?
To paraphrase an old adage; ‘An opinion is like a proctologists playground, everyone has one … and they all stink.’
With the NHL season ending and the draft just two weeks away, anyone who follows the sport of hockey will read or hear many opinions offered on what their favorite teams’ needs are, who to draft and which free agents should be pursued. It’s just fun to spend other peoples’ money.
So once Mr. Wang is done spending his folding money on NHL players’ contracts, let me offer my opinion on what should he should do with the change left in his pocket.
An opinion is only as good as the assumptions it is built on. So here are some of the things I will assume (with ‘ass-u-me’ being another obvious rectal reference), before I offer my opinions. This summers’ Islanders training camp will be a very competitive one at all positions. There will be a battle for back-up goalie between Anders Nilsson and Kevin Poulin. The loser of this battle will become the Sound Tigers top tender for the 2012-13 season and prove himself a winner. (Kevin Poulin/Photo: Pope Steve XXVII)
Much could have been said about the state of the Islanders' defense during the 2011-2012 NHL season, but Islanders fans could see a team that has some other defensive dilemmas in the coming seasons. (Bridgetds/Flickr)
Most Isles fans might know that the New York Islanders have a farm system that is stocked with some very interesting talent. Ryan Strome, Casey Cizikas, and Calvin de Haan are some of the names that might come to mind when mentioning the rebuild on Long Island, but the Isles also have a number of defensive prospects that will be of interest once the 2012-2013 regular season gets closer. Since Garth Snow committed himself and the New York Islanders to a rebuild, the General Manager has selected some promising defensemen that have raised some eyebrows over the last couple of seasons.
While recent defensive draftees such as Scott Mayfield, Andrey Pedan, and Robbie Russo may need a little bit more time to develop, there are more than a few defensive prospects that the Islanders will be keeping their eyes on. Defensemen might take a longer amount of time to develop, but the growth of players such as Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald are just a couple of examples that are proving why patience can pay off when it comes to rebuilding a franchise. MacDonald and Hamonic performed very admirably during the 2011-2012 season for the Islanders and the team has high hopes for some of its prospects that have been maturing within their system.
My first hockey hero was the ‘Rocket’. Young and driven by numbers, it was always the most goals, most home runs, or the most of just about anything that would gain my interest. That all changed in the mid to late sixties, when a defenseman from Parry Sound, Ontario changed the game of hockey. While Doug Harvey of the Montreal Canadians was responsible for adding the phrase ‘offensive defenseman’ to the hockey lexicon, it would be ten years later that a young Bobby Orr not only defined the phrase and gave it flesh, he also changed the way I watched the game. I became a fan of the men working the blue line.
A lot has been written recently about shot blocking in the NHL. This is nothing new to the game, as Rob McGowan points out in his latest offering, ‘The Value of Andrew MacDonald’, but I still have trouble understanding what would posses a person to do it. How can the brain that tells a body when to inhale and exhale to support life tell that same body to position itself in front of a shot and endanger it? Then I remember when I was fifteen years old, positioning myself in in the line of fire of skeet shooters to make a day of fishing more fun.
The final three games played at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport were shutouts. The Sound Tigers were losers in two of those games and didn’t win the third. A scheduling conflict at the XL Center in Hartford, forced the Whale to play host to the visiting Norfolk Admirals in Bridgeport, on neutral ice, in an unfriendly environment. The only player that might have felt at ‘home’ Wednesday night was Admirals’ forward Trevor Smith, who had played over 100 games here as a popular member of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The Admirals won the contest with a 4-0 shutout besting the Whale and their goalie Cam ‘Tiger Killer’ Talbot, the Whale tender that got hot, and abruptly ended the season for the Sound Tigers.
A neutral site far from Norfolk, lousy weather and a Rangers vs. Capitals playoff game on TV resulted in a very small crowd. Just over 1,100 of the heartiest of fans turned out and were joined in the cheap seats by Gordie Howe, Ray Bourque and Mark Messier. The game meant nothing to the Bridgeport team, whose season had ended, but celebrations were being held by Sound Tigers from Oklahoma to Ontario, and though not nearly a Guinness record, sixty-six candles were blown out.
At the end of the season in 2006 or 07, Jeremy Colliton cleaned out his locker and headed home. He had a long drive ahead going from Bridgeport, CT to Blackie, AB. Twitter was not created until March of ’06 and didn’t launch until that July but Facebook was available and Jeremy used it to chronicle his long drive home. His periodic status updates about which George Strait song he was listening to, or how he could not wait for the taste of Canadian beef, eased the pain that I and other hockey fans experience when the season ends. Today it’s Twitter that provides that catharsis.
Several of this years’ Sound Tigers club use twitter and most posted something about their journey. It was obvious from reading each of them that, though sad to leave, they were happy to be home. Kevin Poulin said he was glad to have some ‘home cooking’ and wished teammates Rhett Rakhshani (driving solo to California) and David Ullstrom (flying home to Sweden) well. Ullstrom was in touch with both Casey Cizikas and Trevor Frischmon about having them come to visit him over the summer. John Persson (remember this kids’ name) also from Sweden did not return home. He instead returned to his Canadian billet family in Red Deer, Alberta where he has the most adorable five(?) year-old blonde alarm clock.
This was a season like no other. From its quick start to its abrupt ending it was unique. In season’s past, after mini-camp, the team would form early in September and begin getting ready for the upcoming year. Practice, photo-shoots, training, find lodging, practice, training, media day, practice, training, meet and greet, practice, training. After two weeks, a pre-season game or two and the season is at the doorstep. Not this year.
The team stayed on Long Island until the last minute, perhaps to give the new coaching staff the training and practice that they needed with the Islanders systems. Whatever the reason, the normal two plus weeks was compressed to a few days. The routine remained the same, but with little time on hand the players were getting up at six in the morning to look for housing before heading to practice, training, etc. Condos and houses rented, friendships that will last for years were made and the season began. And a great season it would be, a banner season by all standards.