Every team relies on more than just one player. In the case of the New York Islanders, John Tavares is the main piece that keeps the wheels spinning on Long Island, but one mustn’t lose sight of reality: the Islanders, like any other team, are deeper than just one player.
That’s right. While the Islanders would seem doomed without their superstar, it wouldn’t be fair to say Tavares is the only reason for the franchise’s turnaround. Other pieces, such as Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey, were arguably just as important (if not more so) to the team’s success down the stretch of the season.
We continue our “Isles X-Factor” series, where we take a deeper look at the importance of individual but vital cogs to the team’s success for the 2013-14 season. Eyes on Isles turns our attention to the defensive unit – particularly, the Islanders new $28M man. If the Islanders want to turn their 33-1 Stanley Cup Vegas odds into gold, Travis Hamonic is going to have to take his game to the next level.
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Heading into the upcoming season, most of us would not consider the Islanders defensive unit to be the team’s bread and butter. While the unit played well enough to take the Islanders to the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, there is still some doubt among Islanders fans in the blue-line to guarantee a second consecutive playoff berth. However, for the first time in his tenure, head coach Jack Capuano has a defenseman to turn to in all situations.
Night-after-night, Travis Hamonic was constantly matched against his opponent’s most dangerous offensive unit. He was a main piece to the Islanders penalty-kill in 2013, averaging 2:44 of ice time per game with the team shorthanded. He was a secondary piece on the Islanders power-play in 2013 as well as the aforementioned defensive responsibilities When the Islanders find themselves in a crucial spot, Hamonic is called upon, evident by his team-leading 1,305 shifts throughout this past season.
If you thought he had a lot of responsibility last season, though…well, let’s just say that he is probably in for an increased share. That makes the quality of his play even more important.
The first half of last season was tough to watch, in part because our cornerstone defenseman was struggling. By February 28th, Hamonic was a -14. While he was definitely on the ice for his fair share of unlucky bounces, Hamonic was finding more ways to put the puck in his own net than he was in keeping the pucks out of it. At this point, the Isles were bottom-feeders, and well on their way to another bottom-five finish. The Islanders would suffer one more loss, a 2-0 defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 22nd, and the transformation to game-changer would begin.
From March 24th to April 20th, the Islanders went 11-1-2, surging straight up the standings and into their first playoff berth since 2007. During that time frame, Travis Hamonic registered a +9 rating, and re-affirmed himself as the Islanders top-defenseman. So much so that the team did not seem that concerned with letting Mark Streit sign with the rival Philadelphia Flyers when free agency opened this season.
So, Isles fans: While the Islanders defense may not be considered a strength upon October’s arrival, Hamonic is. After witnessing Travis frustrate the heck out of the Penguins top forwards, Garth Snow tossed the 23-year-old defenseman the keys, smiled and said, “It’s all yours”.
From October to April, the Islanders will need the kid we affectionately call “Hammer” to step on the gas, because like John Tavares and his offensive unit, when Hamonic goes, the defense goes.
Travis Hamonic is an “Isles X-Factor” for the 2013-14 season.