Could Haley Be Next Year's Konopka For The Islanders?

The New York Islanders have a running series on their web-site called, "Road To The Coliseum," giving Islanders fans an in depth look at the travels that many of their young players have made in order to make their way to the NHL in an orange and blue jersey. Many players such as Andrew MacDonald, Michael Grabner and Mark Eaton have been interviewed and discussed as just a few examples. The latest was on Islanders fourth liner, Micheal Haley. (To read Haley's interesting tale, head to this link: http://islanders.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=558351&navid=DL|NYI|home)

Haley's story is definitely interesting, seeing that he was went undrafted and spent time with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL when he was 16 before eventually spending time between the ECHL and AHL before the Islanders called him up for his NHL debut last year. But what might be more interesting is where his story will go.

The 5'10, 204 pound enforcer is only 25 years old and currently has 83 penalty minutes in the 24 games that he has appeared in this season. 39 of those penalty minutes came in the Penguins slug fest about two months ago in his first game of the year. He fought Craig Adams at center ice as well as Maxim Talbot and Brent Johnson, the latter two both in the same shift.

He also tangoed with Sean Avery in the Islanders/Rangers match-up last week, leaving the most hated player in hockey with a cut under his eye that forced him to the dressing room for repairs.

"Nothing. He was trying to fight Hamonic, I think," said Haley in response to what transpired between the two of them. "I just happened to change and saw it so I said, 'I'll fight you.'"

That's all it takes for a guy of Haley's character. Not many of the other NHL enforcers know of this guy and may not be very intimidated by his size. But some may argue that he has yet to lose a fight all year.

In that game against the Penguins, Haley also scored his first NHL goal with a nifty move where he blew passed the defense and came in all alone on the Pens goaltender. He has tallied another goal as well as an assist since that game for a total of three points on the year. Before being called up from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Haley had 12 goals and 10 assists for 22 points in 50 games played to go along with his 144 penalty minutes.

Haley's minor league numbers indicate that he is capable of being a fourth line center-man who's fists can be used for more than just fights for this team down the road. And yes. I said center-man. This fact was a tad surprising to me myself since Zenon Konopka has been the man in the middle on the fourth line all year long, putting Haley at wing.

"Hopefully just where I am, playing on the fourth line," Haley said in regards to his role next season with the team. "But I'll play where ever they want me to play and do whatever role they need me to do. But just try to give it all every night and make sure I stay here."

Haley will likely finish the rest of the season with the Islanders and probably has a target on his head in the Isles/Pens re-match set for this Friday. But will this be the last we see of this guy as an impending RFA heading into next season? I think not.

There were rumors that Konopka's name was being thrown around at the trade deadline, despite many fans' displeasure about losing the toughest enforcer this team has seen since Eric Cairns. He is also an impending UFA that has yet to be signed to a contract extension. The league leader in penalty minutes and one of the top face-off men in the league will certainly attract interest around the league once July 1st hits. But the Islanders might be alright with that.

If I were an Islanders fan, I wouldn't be surprised if Micheal Haley is kept as the team's new fourth line center; a young, developing forward that fits the mold of the rebuild; someone that can play a key role along with others such as Matt Martin. The question will be if the team would be able to survive without Konopka's leadership.

The team is a tight knit group as it is, but there is no question that Z has established a mentality that has been missing from the Islanders organization for a very long time. Therefore I ask, is it too soon for the Islanders to pass the torch to the young enforcers of this team to stick up for their teammates? Or is giving a guy like Haley a chance to center the fourth line on his own the right choice to make?

-Rob McGowan

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