The talk amongst fans all last season was, "This team needs toughness." And indeed, far from embodying Zenon Konopka's "doormat-no-longer" declaration during the 2010-2011 season, the Islanders seemed to take a step back from that mentality this past year.
...What changes this year? Well, Garth Snow must have realized that this squad just does better when their best players aren't being knocked all over the ice, and signed up some tough customers to try and change the doormat-once-more mentality.
It is no secret to most fans of the NHL, the Islanders defense wasn’t the greatest last season but that doesn’t mean everyone playing back there was bad. Travis Hamonic played his second NHL season this past winter and really started to show his bright future.
Drafted in the 2nd round (53rd overall) in 2008, Travis started this past season with the Islanders and became their top defensive defenseman before the season was over. Playing in 73 games this past season, Travis was not only one of the few Islanders to finish on the + side of the +/- rating but he also chipped in 24 points. (Photo Credit: Flickr/Robert Kowal)
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?
Andrew MacDonald might be considered a player that flew under the radar for many teams. After all, he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2006 NHL Entry draft primarily because Ted Nolan was currently the head coach and had worked with him previously with the Moncton Wild Cats of the QMJHL. Had MacDonald been without a connection to the New York Islanders organization, the team very well might not have drafted him.
Since joining the Islanders organization, A-Mac has become one of the top-four blue liners on this young team for a number of reasons. Although he would like to improve his offensive input from the back end, something he did very well while with the Wild Cats (he score 58 points in 2007), his shot blocking has been an invaluable asset.
The countdown of the Islanders top 15 prospects not playing in the AHL or NHL continues on as we have reached the top 5. If you missed either of the other two parts of the countdown, well numbers 10-6 can be found here and numbers 15-11 can be found here. Without further ado here is the top 5.
(Photo Credit: GuelphStorm.com)Pedan just finished his second season with the Guelph Storm of the OHL and it was another successful season for the young defenseman from Russia. Andrey played in 63 games this season finishing with 40 points (10 goals and 30 assists). He also played in 6 games during the OHL playoffs where the Storm were eliminated in the first round. (Photo Credit: GuelphStorm.com)
With the playoff picture narrowing by the day, Matt Martin gave me a call yesterday afternoon to discuss some playoff hockey as well as to take a look at the Islanders as they prepare for next season.
Martin is currently waiting for a new contract with the New York Islanders and has been training a lot this off-season in preparation for 2013. He set an NHL record in 2012 with 374 hits in 80 games played to go along with tying his career high of 14 points. Along with his explosions along the wall, Martin has become one of the biggest fan-favorites for the New York Islander. In fact, his hard work, fisticuffs and willingness to stick up for his teammates earned him the Bobby Nystrom Award for 2012.
But apparently all that hard work takes it's toll. The guy didn't even do to much for his 23rd birthday that just passed on May 8th.
When it rains, it pours; that has been the mantra of the New York Islanders this weekend. Yesterday the Isles let up six goals in a loss to the Boston Bruins that mathematically eliminated themselves from playoff contention. Today, they continued their struggling ways in a 5-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators, who were without both Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson.
"It was pretty horrible on our part. They were missing two of their top players and we couldn't take advantage of it. The way we played, we didn't deserve to win, that's for sure," said Islanders captain Mark Streit after the game. He would be the only Islander to be credited with a goal tonight with a John Tavares pass going off of his skate and behind Senators net-minder Craig Anderson.