The preseason is such a necessary, yet unwarranted time of year. The thirty teams around the National Hockey League need the preseason to gauge their rosters – to have their best players on the ice when the puck drops for the regular season. Some of the 1,000+ players under contract need the preseason to showcase their abilities – to help launch, or in some cases extend, their careers. The preseason can be a beautiful thing; however, that hasn’t been the case for the New York Islanders in recent years, with this preseason rearing its ugly-side in the form of a skate laceration to Cal Clutterbuck’s upper-thigh.
Once again, the Isles find themselves without a key player heading into their opening game of the season. Clutterbuck is expected to miss 4-6 weeks, a big blow for an Isles team that paid a high price to acquire the on-ice-pinball.
There’s no denying it – the loss of Clutterbuck stings. The organization has big plans for Cal, who signed a four-year deal with the team this summer. John Tavares’ linemate during his Oshawa days could be used in an array of situations by head coach Jack Capuano, so his versatility will be missed. Unlike previous years, however, the loss of a roster player like Cal – an expected key contributor – isn’t a death sentence for the Islanders in October because depth.
Unlike other years – 2010, when Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit injured their shoulders, rings a bell – the Islanders have a new-found strength in their talent pool. Infused with veterans and rookies craving the opportunity to get their feet wet, and possessing the ability to perform at the NHL-level, this organization is prepared to take on the burdens generated by preseason woes.
Listen. Nobody should be expected to fill the void Cal left by playing like Mr. Clutterbuck himself. The team doesn’t have a fill-in player that will provide the combination of physicality, grittiness and skill Cal was expected to bring to the table. There are viable options, though – options that can be depended on during any time of “peril.”
Peter Regin, for example, played just the type of game you would want from a third-line player last night in New Jersey. Regin only played 14:23 in Newark, but he came away with a face-off percentage of 60%, one takeaway, a +2 rating and a goal – using Frans Nielsen’s move – to give the Isles a 5-3 lead in the third period.
The trio of rookies also impressed, each making his own case for ice time when the season opens. Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee all found the score-sheet on the team’s first goal of the game – a power play marker by Lee, from Nelson and Strome – that beat Martin Brodeur early on.
The aforementioned names represent four players that can step in at any given time this season – four players that can fill Clutterbuck’s spot efficiently enough to keep the Islanders afloat during his absence.
This isn’t 2010-11. Replacement players no longer include a committee of Jeremy Colliton, Michael Haley, Justin DiBennedeto and Rhett Rakhshani. The team’s emergency options in 2013-14 include a previously projected top-six forward, two former first-round picks and a former 6th-round-pick-turned-stud with one NHL goal to his name.
There’s no reason to panic about Clutterbuck, folks. It makes sense to be disappointed. It’s understandable to be upset. The loss of Cal shouldn’t set the Isles back, though, and that’s because the team [finally] has the qualified personnel to step in when intra-roster decisions are forced to take another turn.
Isles fans: The Islanders are in good shape. Let’s gear up for October!