A Look At the Defense on the Island
There had been talk since the start of free agency that the Islanders were going to look to add a top six forward as well as a top four defenseman. So far, General Manager Garth Snow has traded Trent Hunter to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for veteran winger, Brian Rolston. It was seen as mostly a cap floor move as his salary brings them closer to that goal, but he also will provide veteran leadership, a booming slap-shot and a top-six presence as long as he stays healthy.
But the defenseman has yet to be found.
The Islanders went into the off-season with six defenseman already under contract with Mark Streit, Andy MacDonald, Travis Hamonic, Mark Eaton, Mike Mottau and Milan Jurcina here for the 2011-2012 year. RFA Jack Hillen was released to free agency and has since signed a deal with the Nashville Predators. Bruno Gervais was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Radek Martinek signed a one-year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Ty Wishart and Dylan Reese were the only impending RFA's of the defense corps that were retained by the organization and will likely see most of their seasons with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, pending any injuries (and let's face it, we know they're coming).
Although the six mentioned above are a solid group of defenseman, the Islanders could use a little bit more fire power to play with Streit or at least some extra size. There is no question that he is the most offensive minded of the six and will log big minutes all year. However Streit missed all of last season and will not only be looking to help his team make the playoffs, but to also get his own game back up to speed. It's possible that fans will see the Mark Streit they remember right off the bat, but it would only be fair to set a fair goal for him next season, especially if he isn't provided any veteran assistance on the power play.
Rolston's slap-shot will certainly help the Isles special teams and could be a nice one-two punch with him and Streit at the blue line. But being that Mottau and Eaton only had three assists each before their seasons were cut short to go with Jurcina's 17 points, the team will be relying on more offensive production from youngsters MacDonald and Hamonic unless they find another offensive threat.
That doesn't mean that the young guys aren't up to the task; they both should be able to build upon the seasons they both just had in 2011. Hamonic went from being an emergency call-up to a regular on the team, appearing in 62 games and totaling 26 points (5 goals and 21 assists). He plays a solid overall game and is one of the more physical d-men that isn't afraid to drop the gloves when needed. The best part is that he is only 20 years old.
MacDonald went from being only a defensive-minded defenseman to a versatile contributor in all areas of the ice. Over the previous two seasons, MacDonald had only scored seven points in 49 games played. But things changed for him last year as he stepped up to the plate in Streit's absence, tallying four goals and 23 assists for 27 points in 60 games played. He also did this while battling injuries, including one to his hip that he neglected only until the team was officially eliminated from playoff contention once he decided to finally go for surgery. A-Mac is also young and just reaching the prime stage of his career at 24 years old, showing that he has room to grow and continue his on-ice production from the blue line.
My prediction is that Hamonic will be even more of a weapon on the power play next year and that MacDonald will follow suit. And don't be surprised if you see top defensive prospect Calvin de Haan make his way out of Bridgeport and onto the Islanders line-up in a similar way that Hamonic did last year.
Despite the excitement surrounding the young defense that are slowly starting to take the reigns from the back end of the ice, it is important to keep in mind that Streit is not the only defenseman returning from an injured season. Jurcina was constantly in and out of the line-up and the team had a much better winning record from when he was dressed in comparison to when he sat. Eaton and Mottau are also returning from shut down seasons where they forced to get surgery on their hips.
That's three defenseman returning from hip surgery in addition to Streit's return to action.
Another top-four defenseman would certainly be a welcomed addition and boost to the playoff hopes the organization has set for next year.
There aren't too many left on the UFA market and one can only assume that Snow would have signed one by now if that were the case. Last year Snow was able to acquire James Wisniewski from the Anaheim Ducks for a third round draft pick. Although The Wiz didn't pan out, it was seen as a good move at the time and one that was supposed to help the power play. It's possible that the savvy Isles GM could make a similar move.
This has plenty of bloggers and hockey pundits playing with the idea that he is shopping Josh Bailey. He is the only RFA who has yet to be signed which is a little odd. Bailey has yet to reach the hype that surrounded him when he was drafted back in 2008. He was selected ninth overall after Snow traded down twice (from 5th to 7th to 9th) in order to draft him. His best season was in 2010 when he posted 35 points after moving from center to wing. Last year Bailey started very strong but then quickly faded down the stretch and even saw a demotion to Bridgeport. Although it seemed to work for the time being, Bailey eventually went back to his struggling ways and only finished with 28 points in 70 games.
Whether Bailey was ranked too high or rushed into the NHL remains to be seen. But he is only 21 years old and it is still possible that he can become that second line play-making forward. The question is whether or not Snow is weighing his options of admitting that Bailey didn't pan out and using him as trade bait before his value completely diminishes, or giving him another year to prove himself with the New York Islanders.
Could Bailey be used to bring in that extra defenseman that the team desperately needs?
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