June 23, 2012

Islanders Bolster D on Day 1: Deal for Visnovsky, Draft Reinhart

When the final seconds ticked off the clock on the Isles final game of the season, a brutal loss to the league worst Columbus Blue Jackets, a whole new set of questions faced the team heading into the offseason.

The Islander defense was a huge weak spot and they were set to lose three bodies from a blueline that finished the year 26th in goals against. Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina will no doubt be looking for new jobs this summer, while Steve Staios already has his new job as a scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Islanders have made it no secret that they want to add defensemen, and that they would likely have to come via trade due to the team's general lack of success on the free agent market. On Friday during day one of the NHL Entry Draft, Garth Snow got his summer off to a good start.

Just after the Edmonton Oilers announced their selection of the talented Nail Yakupov first overall, the Islanders announced that they sent a 2013 second round pick to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky.

For anyone who has followed the league for the past 10 or so years, you know who Visnovsky is. For those who don't TSN's Scott Cullen sums it up nicely for us:

Visnovsky, 35, has been one of the most productive offensive defencemen in the game in recent seasons. Since 2005-2006, he ranks third among all blueliners, behind Nicklas Lidstrom and Dan Boyle, with 337 points.

As with any trade, there are good and bad implications with this one. However, the good overshadows the bad in big ways.

Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images
Naturally, any trade the Islanders make these days has salary implications and this was no different. Visnovsky comes with a $5.6 million cap hit, but only gets $3 million in actual salary. The Islanders will be able to once again get to the cap floor without issue this season, but at least this time they got a useful player on a deal like this one rather than another Brian Rolston.

Entering the season, Visnovsky wasn't feeling 100% and played his usual share of minutes for the Ducks. But his injuries caught up with him, forcing him to miss some time. Due to the injury troubles, Visnovsky played in 68 games last year, and only notched 27 points. In the previous year, Visnovsky finished 4th in voting for the Norris Trophy after his 18 goal, 50 assist campaign. Once he came back, he looked like his old self and had his minutes limited as well.

There is also something to be said for the Anaheim Ducks as a whole last season. Ryan Getzlaf battled consistency issues and his points took a major hit. Corey Perry did score 37 goals, but 38 points less than he did the prior season. Jonas Hiller had a slow start before rounding into form. The combination of early season struggles for the Ducks cost head coach Randy Carlyle his job in favor of Bruce Boudreau, who employs a different style. The struggles continued for the first few weeks under Boudreau before the Ducks turned it around a bit and guys got back on track.

The lack of a post season for the Ducks means that they were able to recharge their batteries after several long post season runs in recent years. Visnovsky at 35 is no different here.

Last season, Sean and I spoke many times about getting a puck moving defenseman on the back-end, one who could really help to open up the offense. The lack of competent first passes out of our own end last season contributed to some of the struggles on offense. Visnovsky has the ability to make that pass, and gives the Isles a solid top 4 along with Mark Streit, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald.

The trade for Visnovsky is only a start in what the Isles have to do in order to be a serious playoff contender next season, and to get some of their fan base back. Visnovsky filled one need, and the other now has to come in the form of a big, tougher defenseman.

The Islanders drafted one of those in Griffin Reinhart with the 4th overall pick on Friday. Reinhart, at 18, already stands at 6'4" but should not be in the NHL next season. If he is, it means the Isles did not complete their job this offseason.

Reinhart, when he ultimately plays in the NHL, will be a welcome sight on the Isles blueline. With some growing still to do, I shudder to think at what size he'll top out at.

For a bigger guy, Reinhart's skating is surprisingly better than average, although speed is something he'll have to work with. He's spent some time rounding out his offensive game as well, and has good ability with shooting the puck. Some of this has come in exchange for some of the physicality, but I'm not as concerned with that given that Reinhart has proven he'll bang forwards around when necessary.

All in all, the Islanders had a successful first day of the draft, essentially the first day of the offseason as well.

With time running out and the Islanders needing to gain some fan support, the addition of Visnovsky is one item off of a list of major needs this summer. Now the Islanders will try and get a 2nd line center/winger and find that 28-32 year old defenseman Snow has coveted the last few years. They'll have a chance Saturday at day two to build up even more depth before possibly using some of it to better the team in the present day.



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