Isles Need To Bring Back Konopka
The New York Islanders' season is only seven games away from coming to an end. A few impending RFA's will likely be getting new contracts sometime over the summer, but there are a few Unrestricted Free Agents that will be wondering whether or not they will be staying on the Island or searching for new homes at the start of July 1st.
One of those players is Zenon Konopka. He leads the league in penalty minutes by a wide margin with 245 on the year to go along with 2 goals, 7 assists and 9 points in all 75 games that have been played this year. He has won 57.9% of the face-offs he's taken, winning 588 out of 1016, making him a useful center in crucial moments on the ice and ranking him at fifth best in the league. Of his penalty minutes, Konopka has only taken 25 minors on the year. His 21 majors, 7 misconducts and 2 game misconducts are the reasons why he is at the top of the league.
Konopka, or "Z" as he is referred to in the locker room, has become one of the most influential leaders on this team. He is the first to stick up for his teammates each and every game and has helped establish the mentality that everyone on this team should protect one other, and the team has responded. Fans have watched the Isles get bullied and pummeled by their division rivals for the past two years and were crying for someone to help take care of the dirty work. GM Garth Snow started with Trevor Gillies last year and it immediately impacted the team's success. To strengthen the new toughness movement, Snow added Konopka this past summer. All you have to do is look back in February at the Pittsburgh match-up to see that the Islanders are no longer getting bullied; they are the ones that are dropping their opponents to the ice.
It hasn't just been Konopka and Gillies, but other forwards such as Matt Martin has learned a lot from a guy like Konopka. Martin is second on the team with 113 penalty minutes with 5 goals, 7 assists and 12 points on the year. Konopka and Martin have established a fourth line that can contribute offensively and can cause havoc in the offensive zone. When Gillies is sitting, (or suspended), Micheal Haley has shown that he can chip in a few goals and drop the gloves when needed.
But these are the guys you expect to be enforcers. This year Blake Comeau, Josh Bailey, John Tavares, Radek Martinek, Bruno Gervais and Andrew MacDonald have all gotten into fights this year. These are not your typical fighters.
Some of you might think, "okay so Konopka motivates these guys to fight, so what?" It's not just about throwing punches. Z has done something that a lot of players have tired to do and couldn't; he's united this team. They win and lose together; they play for one another and not themselves; they won't let a teammate go down without having to answer. The Islanders are a bunch of young players that are trying to develop into a contender, but Konopka has performed a crucial step in this youth movement by creating a tight bond between all of these players. It's a corny cliche, but a contending team has to play as a team. For the first time in years, the Islanders are doing exactly that.
Back when Ted Nolan was the head coach of the Islanders there was a motto that was advertised on the front of the Nassau Coliseum and all over the web-site. It read, "Grit. Character. Heart." That motto has never been true until this season.
The guy wants to be back. He's said it publicly. He's also made comments towards Mario Lemieux, who was quick to criticize the NHL and the New York Islanders. Z ended his response by saying that he would rip the Lemieux poster off his door the second he got home from the rink. He's also made other comments in defense of his team throughout the year:
“There’s been a lot of liberties taken over the course of the season,” said Konopka after the Penguins game in February. “It can be built up only so much before I guess it comes out. So it’s some of that, it was everyone sticking up for each other. It was a good hockey team we beat but it was tough losing Comeau. He’s like a brother to us. That hurt.”
I can't remember the last time I heard a player call a teammate a "brother" in that locker room.
“So we really are going to have to step in and make sure our guys are taken care of. This goal goes for the rest of the year and next year,” added Konopka.
If Konopka is not brought back - something that could be done easily and at an inexpensive price - that goal will likely not be accomplished.
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