January 7, 2013

Lubomir Visnovsky to Stay in KHL, NHL says 'Not So Fast'

As the lockout comes to a conclusion and teams begin to reassemble for their brief training camps, we're all beginning to remember what shape teams are in.

For Islanders fans, realization set in that their top three defensemen included Mark Streit, Travis Hamonic and Lubomir Visnovsky. Or...not?

The 36-year-old Visnovsky announced his decision to play the remainder of the season for HC Slovan Bratislava of the KHL in his home country of Slovakia.

The last time we saw this saga, Visnovsky filed a grievance against the Anaheim Ducks over the draft day trade to the Isles because he felt his no-trade clause was still valid. It was determined by an arbitrator that the clause was invalid, and the trade to the Islanders was upheld. The Islanders had given up a 2nd round pick in 2013 for Visnovsky.

Once that got settled and Visnovsky was spotted at a kids camp with an Isles practice jersey on, everyone assumed that meant he would play whatever season their was with the team.
Courtesy of the Orange County Register

But with just 48 games left on his current NHL contract, Visnovsky seems to have once again soured on returning to the NHL to suit up for the Isles.

Of course, there is a transfer agreement between the KHL and NHL which dictates that something like this cannot happen. These rules were reiterated by Bill Daly to Newsday, who took time out of his busy schedule of finalizing the CBA to make the statement.

While the actions taken by Visnovsky are completely unprofessional, in looking at it from his standpoint I can see where he might be gun shy.

It was believed at the time of the trade that Visnovsky was leaning towards retiring, citing his feelings after the Lokomotiv plane crash in which he lost his close friend Pavol Demitra as the reason his play took a hit last year. If he is serious about retiring, then he may not deem a 48-game season worthy of leaving where he's comfortable to finish out his career.

But what if Visnovsky wants to keep playing, and return to the NHL to do so? Then it's simple: he'd have to report to the Islanders. He has a standard player contract - they have his services for one NHL season, be it 82 or 48 games. The NHL season will commence around January 19th.

If not, then the Islanders will do what they did with Evgeni Nabokov and toll his contract into next season and he will owe the Islanders a full year.

Choosing to stay in the KHL will hurt the Islanders. They were not much of a cup contender with him as it was, but losing him will just make things a tad more difficult in any potential playoff run. After having a solid powerplay last season, the addition of Visnovsky was going to bring the Islanders one of the best powerplay QB's they've seen in quite a while.

Now, they are left scrambling to piece together a defense again, a weak point for the better part of a decade. There are only four defensemen with NHL experience on the roster: Streit, Hamonic, Andrew MacDonald and Matt Carkner (who missed a chunk of last season in Ottawa with a knee injury and saw a sharp decline in his minutes as well).

No Visnovsky means that Isles fans would likely see a defense that includes Aaron Ness and Matt Donovan. Both are fine young defensemen, but to have both in the line-up getting regular minutes is in no way ideal if the Islanders are serious about making a run for the playoffs in a shortened season where mistakes need to be minimal. Only one had been expected to make the big club up until this point.

If the Islanders truly want to keep pace with the competition, they need to add some NHL experience on the back end via trade or the very thin UFA market.

We'll see what the next few days hold as the Islanders plan to have further discussions with the league and Visnovsky's agent as early as Tuesday. It'll be interesting to see the reaction the league has if the KHL attempts to facilitate a violation of the Memorandum of Understanding they have with the NHL.


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