The New York Islanders have had their share of problems this season. I do not think anyone could rightfully deny or ignore that, especially if you have paid attention even the slightest bit.
Since being over the .500 mark on November 2 at 6-5-3, the Islanders went on a horrific swoon that this time extended from November all the way through December 17, finally bottoming out at 9-19-7 (3-14-4 stretch).
Since then, we have seen the team rebound nicely behind a slew of rookies that have been thrust into much more important roles than originally considered back in September at the onset of training camp. The recent 12-6 run New York has been on has been led by the likes of Brock Nelson, Calvin de Haan, Matt Donovan and Kevin Poulin.
Of course, de Haan and Donovan have been moved into the spotlight sooner because of the injuries suffered that nobody, including general manager Garth Snow, could have projected or planned for. Out since October 17, Lubomir Visnovsky participated in his first contact practice yesterday with no restrictions and the hope, per head coach Jack Capuano, is that he can return to the lineup sometime next week.
Travis Hamonic, however, has not been so lucky as of today. Still suffering from the symptoms of a concussion he picked up in Dallas, there is just no telling when the Islanders will get their most valuable defenseman back in the lineup. As we know (and have experienced first hand this year), there is no set timetable for these types of injuries. It could be tomorrow, next week, a month or the rest of the season for Hamonic. For anyone to say they can pinpoint exactly how long it will take him to recover is just plain irresponsible journalism and can not be taken seriously.
As we gaze into the crystal ball that shows the New York Islanders future, we like to envision what the lineup might look like at some point in the near future. Even play a little armchair general manager from time to time. It’s a fun exercise if you can keep it level-headed and realistic.
With that being said, let’s imagine perfect health for Visnovsky and Hamonic and knowing what we know today, project who we would like to see as the Islanders defenseman not only on the active roster, but dressing as top six from game to game.
Remainder of 2013-14 Season
3 – Travis Hamonic – This is an easy decision to make. Hamonic is the heart and soul of this defense going forward and locked up with a long-term contract under 4mm per season. An ‘A’ will be stitched on his jersey soon enough.
11 – Lubomir Visnovksy – The 37-year-old is coming off a concussion where it had him scared that his career was over. With one more year at 4.75m, it’s safe to assume there is a spot on this blueline and quarterbacking the first power play unit for one more season before his departure.
14 – Thomas Hickey – Hickey has been surprisingly good this year, leading the team at +7 and playing responsibly in his own zone. Sometimes he gets physically overpowered but has shown enough intelligence and sense to use his other skills when that challenge presents itself.
37 – Brian Strait – Up and down since returning from a mysterious upper body injury, he is one of the leading physical defensemen that the team has. With a very manageable contract of 2 yrs, 775m he could easily be dealt when some of the kids are ready to come up and assume their rightful places in the lineup.
44 – Calvin de Haan – de Haan has been the jewel of the fanbase ever since his recall. Finally recovered from multiple shoulder procedures and showing he can handle an NHL workload, should be a fixture for the next decade.
46 – Matt Donovan – Donovan has shown a lot since his return to the team just after New Years Day. Came back much more physical and is joining the rush with confidence. Now paired with de Haan, also looks more at home in his own zone. Still lessons to be learned and turnovers to be reduced but that will come with experience.
47 – Andrew MacDonald – Whipping boy of the fans, MacDonald was forced into a role he was never suited for after Visnovsky went down. Upwards of 28 minutes a night and quarterbacking a power play. But, for a player of his experience, the turnovers have been costly and plentiful. With unrestricted status coming up, is a safe bet to be traded by the March 5 deadline if his rumored demands of 4.5 to 5mm are found to be correct.
In the above scenario, Donovan and Strait most likely rotate in and out of the lineup until (IF) MacDonald is traded.
Send Matt Carkner to Bridgeport (would have to clear waivers) – If MacDonald is moved, he would be needed as the 7th man on defense for the rest of the season.
Radek Martinek would be released in a move that would more than likely end his NHL career.
8 – Griffin Reinhart – With a strong showing at training camp this year, Reinhart will have every opportunity to make the club out of training camp in September of 2014. There seem to be no indications, with the Islanders needing size, strength and a nasty streak on the blueline, that he won’t be able to crack the lineup.
11 – Visnovsky
14 – Hickey
44 – de Haan
46 – Donovan
The seventh man, in and out of the lineup, would be a toss-up between Aaron Ness and Andrey Pedan for me. It might be time to see what we have in Pedan at the National Hockey League level, although he has missed a lot of valuable development time this year with a concussion of his own (and is still out of the lineup).
Ness was given his cup of tea and it proved to be a little too hot for him right now. Some don’t project him as a steady, reliable defenseman in this league but as a spare part, could be very useful.
The thought is that another year at Bridgeport rather than on the Island would benefit Scott Mayfield and Marc Cantin (who some don’t envision as more than an AHL player anyway). Ryan Pulock should be ready for a trial run coinciding with the team’s move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below and tell me who you would like to see on the Islanders blueline for the rest of this season and beyond. Or you can shout at me on Twitter, @tazman19.