Lubomir Visnovsky’s decision to stay in his native Slovakia and continue playing in the KHL is nothing new to Islanders fans. Over the years Islander fans have had their fair share of reluctant acquisitions.
In 1995, the Islanders enigmatically traded their start Pierre Turgeon to the Montreal Canadians for Kirk Muller… who needed to take a few days to accept the fact he’d been traded. His lack of enthusiasm for being a New York Islander continued behind the scenes and the following season the team suspended him until they could finally traded him at the 1996 deadline to Toronto.
In 2007, one of the bolder trades GM Garth Snow has made in his tenure, acquired Ryan Smyth from the Edmonton Oilers to help the Islanders make a push towards the playoffs. Though it paid off, and the Islanders were able to squeak into the dance by winning a shoot out against the Devils on the last game of the regular season, it’s not hard to remember Smyth’s emotional response to leaving his beloved Edmonton Oilers. He was an unrestricted free gent to be and the Islanders gave up a few prospects to bring him in, however, there was didn’t seem to be much interest for him to sign long term. Mr. Smyth’s situation was different than Mr. Muller’s in that though he was emotionally devastated and shocked to be traded, he came to the island and played out the year hard as he always does. He did however immediately leave for the Colorado Avalanche in the offseason, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of Islander fans.
In 2010, Garth Snow poached Evegni Nabokov from reentry waivers after the Detroit Redwings signed the free agent goaltender well into the season. Mr. Nabokov’s reaction was like those before him; shock he was suddenly a New York Islander. Sighting that it was so late in the season, and the Islanders were too far back from play off contention, Mr. Nabokov chose to not join the team. The Islanders suspended him. However, Mr. Nabokov came ready to play at training camp in the 2011-2012 season. He won the starting job, and fans quickly learned to respect the solid, consistent goaltending “Nabby” supplied. Having a veteran between the pipes for this young team is essential, and Mr. Nabokov did a full 180 from his original decision to not report to the team by signing a one-year contract extension. He was set to be a free agent, but chose to stay with the New York Islanders. Nabokov was won over by the team and the community. His sentiments were echoed by former players Doug Weight and Bill Guerin, who after signing with the team discovered how great living and playing on Long Island can be.
The Islanders acquired the rights to former Vancouver Canucks defensemen Christian Ehrhoff in 2011, right before the free agent signings commenced, but could not convince him to sign with them. He refused. Instead, he took a deal with another small market team, the Buffalo Sabres. Many times over the last few years, Islanders have watched free agents take less money to play on other teams. Why? Often, players only see the ancient ruin that is the Nassau Coliseum. They stay a few hundred feet away, across a slab of concrete at the local Marriott. To most visitors, this isn’t much of a desired destination. Add in the rumors of turmoil that have flagged the organization for decades, the Islanders have struggled to convince talented free agent players to come and join them. This is part of the reason why the prospect of moving to Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn in 2015 is so exciting. The cache of being in a vibrant and hip part of town can only help in luring players.
In the mean time, Visnoskvy may still have to come play for the Islanders. Legal reasons may force him, and though he may have personal reason that have nothing to do with the New York Islanders, his comments and attempts to avoid joining the team have opened old wounds for Islander fans. He’ll need to play hard and be the top four defensemen they had hoped to have acquired.