New York Islanders: The Curious Case of Calvin de Haan

When your team is almost guaranteed to make the playoffs, most coaches around the NHL will look to keep their better players fresh and rested for the playoffs, which makes sense, but do those same coaches hold players who were once considered one of their top four defensemen out of the lineup for five straight games?

No, not typically, but that’s what New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano is doing with defenseman Calvin de Haan, who has been one of his more consistent, reliable defenseman since he was called up last season. The former first round pick has sat out the Islanders past five crucial, important games here with the playoffs just one week away.

Why? Well that’s the question on every Islander fans mind.

When de Haan was called up in favor of Matt Donovan last season, he immediately impressed fans and the coaching staff as part of an Islanders defense that was dismal. He impressed so much so that he climbed the ladder quite quickly and was put on the first pairing with Travis Hamonic, a pairing that has stuck as the Isles second pairing for most of this season. This season de Haan has recorded one goal and 11 assists and is a +2 rating in the 64 games that he has participated in. He has also averaged 19 minutes time on ice this season.

So now why is de Haan in Jack Capuano’s proverbial doghouse? To me there are a couple of different reasons for this with the first being the fact that de Haan did struggle over the final five games he had played before being benched.

In those five games, the Ontario native was a -4 and did not record a point. Obviously those are a disappointing few games for any defenseman, but at this point in the season, your guys need to play through their good and bad stretches without being benched for a few rough games. Now it is one thing to pull a guy when you have an option that is more or less just as good, but the Islanders simply don’t have the luxury of possessing one on their roster.

Another reason may be the fact that de Haan has been a bit inconsistent this season, but that comes with the territory of being a 23 year old NHL defenseman with just over 100 games of NHL experience under your belt. In my opinion, as well as the opinion of AL Arbour’s (so I guess I’m in good company here,) it takes several hundred games for a defenseman to find his game at the NHL level because it is just so complicated in both the mental and physical aspects.

It could also be very possible that de Haan is just a bit banged up and Capuano wants to give him some time to get healthy, but let’s face it, at this point that ship seems to have sailed. The Islanders are fighting for their playoff lives and they need any regular who is able should be out there every night.

Now let’s focus on who’s replacing Calvin de Haan and that is Capuano’s favorite Islander, Brian Strait. Strait has now played in 50 games this season and in those he has put up two goals and four assists and also posted a -3 rating. Not to mention the fact that Strait is an advanced statistics nightmare, which is something that the Islanders management holds near and dear to their hearts, so that also makes no sense. Strait is last among Islanders defenseman in shot attempts (SAT) with a -104 according to NHL.com whereas de Haan ranks fourth with a +135. de Haan also has the lead over Strait in pretty much every other advanced statistics category you can come up with. It’s safe to say that on an Islanders team which has fantastic “fancy stats,” Strait is a lame duck.

What will it take for de Haan to get back in the team’s lineup? Missing the playoffs? Another loss to a non-playoff team? The scary thing at this point is that I fear Strait may be a permanent stay in the lineup if this team makes the playoffs because at this point, why would Capuano take him out.

The Islanders will look to clinch once again on Friday in Pittsburgh against the rival Penguins. Let’s hope we see the best lineup and get the boys best effort.

Lets Go Islanders!