Getting Defensive: The Isles Have Some Holes To Fill

As reported earlier by almost everyone in the hockey world, including TCL Isles blogger John Santamaria, the New York Islanders made a blockbuster trade on Sunday for proven goal-scorer, Thomas Vanek; an Austrian forward with size, skill and the ability to win hockey games due to his offensive prowess (Photo credit: Official New York Islanders/Flickr).

In return, the Islanders sent Matt Moulson, arguably the heart and soul of the Islanders to the Buffalo Sabres, along with a 2014 (or 2015) first round draft pick and 2015 second round pick.  

A steep price to pay, but one that can yield excellent results if everything were to pan out nicely.

Straight up, Vanek is a better overall player than Moulson based on his goal scoring talent. He has quick hands, skates well and will bring the Islanders another top offensive threat that can score goals on an individual basis.

Without disrespecting him, Matt Moulson was not the same player. He brought grit in front of the net and a willingness to battle any defenseman in order to score those dirty goals. The vast majority of his goals throughout his career have come from him keeping it simple; sneaking around the crease looking for rebounds that came from shots and plays likely created by his long-time buddy, John Tavares.

Moulson will absolutely be missed, having been one of the few bright spots of this team over the past few years of what has felt like a long and grueling rebuild.

But this trade signifies that GM Garth Snow is ready to strike a deal that can be made in order to benefit his team. He's no longer building for the future. He's looking to win right now.

And he should be. The rebuild has been over for at least a year now. The Islanders made the playoffs last year and played a series against a much better Pittsburgh Penguins team that arguably could have gone either way had there been better goaltending.

The expectations deserve to be raised, and Snow has to make moves for the present. But at what cost?

The biggest issue on this team is defense and goaltending. Evgeni Nabokov played well last night against the New York Rangers, making several key saves that kept his team in the game that allowed them to take the lead in the second period. But he continues to let up big rebounds and lacks a confident back-up goaltender that can ease up on some of the pressure he faces on a regular basis.

Lapses in the defensive zone also allowed a New York Rangers team, that has not played well at all, to come back and win the hockey game.

Brian Strait, Thomas Hickey and Matt Carkner have been pushed to play above their levels with injuries occurring on the blue line. In fact, the recent injury to Strait forced Snow to sign Radek Martinek to a one-year deal.

If Snow is willing to make a deal involving an Islanders fan-favorite to improve his offense (which, by the way, was doing quite nicely as the Isles are tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference in goals scored), will he make a similar move to improve his defense?

Many hockey pundits are saying 'yes' after making this aggressive deal with the Sabres on Sunday. But if that's the case, why would he wait any longer and sign someone like Martinek instead?

Martinek, who was responsible for the game-winning goal against the Isles last night, has only played three games this year since he signed on late. Wouldn't a more reliable and experienced blue liner that can chip in offensively have been a better addition?

This isn't to say that Martinek is a bad defenseman to have; when healthy, Martinek is one of the most underrated and reliable defenseman in the game.

But he only makes a trio including Hickey and Carkner marginally better.

The Isles may have to look to their farm team to see if Calvin de Haan or Aaron Ness are ready for a shot. But again, this Isles team that has surpassed the rebuild stage would then be adding more inexperience to a team that is looking to win now, not grow.

Winning games against teams that are in their division, and at the bottom no less, are crucial points for a team that is looking to remain at the top of the Metropolitan Division. Those points can make or break playoff teams by the end of the year.

It's still an early season, and the Isles' division rivals are starting to play better hockey and win games while the Islanders continue to lose.

It's too early to say whether or not the Vanek/Moulson trade was actually a good or bad deal. It can pay off great dividends in the long run based on a number of factors.

But the offense wasn't the problem with this team. The defense has been the biggest issue, and one that needs to be rectified soon.

Otherwise, whether it be with Vanek or Moulson, this team will still be in the same situation that they are in right now.

-Rob McGowan

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