Are Carkner, Boulton the Answer to the Toughness Question for Isles?
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.
It started with losing Konopka. The gritty center was good at two things: taking faceoffs, and trying to take opponents' faces off. He tallied a career-high 307 penalty minutes during his season with the Islanders, and many of them were the result of dropping the gloves.
After then-captain Doug Weight had gone down with back problems, missing most of the season, the team rallied around Konopka's team-first attitude and aggressive nature on the ice. As a result, the team performed better in the back half of the season (15-12-6 post-All-Star Game) than in the front (15-27-7 pre-ASG). More than that, though, they seemed to have a bond that was missing when the season had first started. It was more than just the tough guys sticking up for their teammates -- you saw linemates sticking up for one another, even guys who weren't fighters, per se.
For some reason or other, though, the Islanders organization found problems with Konopka, and he ended up signing with Ottawa in the offseason. Marty Reasoner was brought in as his replacement, and the rest is history there -- he was more scapegoat than scrapper. And with Micheal Haley bouncing in and out of the lineup, Matt Martin turning his attention to drawing rather than taking penalties (though he broke a league record in hits with 374 of them) and Travis Hamonic in the box for every little thing, the Islanders lost their identity as a take-no-prisoners upstart of a team.
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's too early to tell if Matt Carkner will be the new Zenon Konopka or even the new Micheal Haley (now a Ranger) for this team, but the organization certainly hopes so. He has fewer PIM than ZK in three NHL seasons, but he's got plenty of time to catch up, and he likely will. Check out his fight card here and see for yourself. Besides that, he's a solid body with a defense-first mindset, so he'll help patch up the back end of the ice. His hit totals are decent as well, so here's to hoping he won't shy away from throwing his body around (unlike Milan Jurcina, who somehow had 173 hits last season... somehow). (Photo Credit: Dan4thNicholas/flickr)
Eric Boulton is older at 36, but he's not new to dancing, either. He'll probably find time on the bottom two lines, as he's not exactly an offensive juggernaut (and he wasn't brought here to be). That will hopefully take some of the onus off of Martin and Hamonic to be the entire toughness "package," so to speak, for the Islanders. While they should definitely keep throwing their weight around, having some support will give them the opportunity to develop their game in other areas.
Does this mean guys like John Tavares and Frans Nielsen will stop being thrown around like rag dolls? Only time will tell, but there's definitely a message being sent with these signings. Perhaps the Islanders are set to shed their "doormat" image once more.