Ryan Smyth was traded to the New York Islanders in exchange for a first round draft choice, Robert Nilsson and Ryan O’Marra. The latter has yet to make his leap into the NHL while Nilsson recently signed a contract with a team overseas in the KHL. It was a deal that worked out in the Isles favor – at the time – and is the only major deal that Garth Snow has made in his tenure as General Manager. With that being said, the Smyth trade is capable of being regarded as his best. It promoted excitement and positive attention on the Island for the first time in years. The Islanders made the playoffs after Wade Dubieliewicz’s poke check in the final game of the year in the shoot-out to face the Buffalo Sabres in a first round playoff series to cap off an entertaining year of Isles hockey.
Will James Wisniewski have all that jazz? Probably not. But the trade that Snow executed yesterday with the Anaheim Ducks may be up their with one of his best. Not just because Wiz is a young, hard-hitting defenseman but because it came at little cost and helps the team in more ways than one.
Let’s look at the obvious. The Islanders did not have anyone that could throw the body like a cannonball in front of Rick DiPietro (don’t laugh…I did say Rick DiPietro, but I haven’t finished my cup of cool-aid yet) and Dwayne Roloson due to the vacancy that Andy Sutton left in our line-up. Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina added size, reliability and experience, but did not add muscle. Of course, Zenon Konopka and Trevor Gillies will get their hands dirty on offense, but it is crucial to have a physical presence that can bang bodies and clear the crease for your goaltenders.
That’s where Wisniewski comes in. Many will remember his suspension after he annihilated former teammate Brent Seabrook of the Chicago Blackhawks into the boards last year. I’m not saying I approve of that type of play; I don’t. But it goes to show the type of grit he possesses. He won’t be shy to use his shoulders and can contribute on the power play as well. (If you wish to read more about what I think Wisniewski can do for the Islanders line-up, read my post over at The Checking Line, which can be found here: http://thecheckingline.com/blog/rob-mcgowan/new-york-islanders/wizzing-isles-add-depth-d)
Wisniewski’s arrival also provides competition on defense and an insurance policy. Currently the Islanders have 8 defenseman under contract (not counting Brendan Witt, as all signs point to a buyout if he’s not picked up on waivers). My prediction for your top-six goes as follows: Mark Streit-Radek Martinek, Mark Eaton-James Wisniewski, Jack Hillen-Andy MacDonald. Milan Jurcina and Bruno Gervais will probably be the odd men out but I expect Milan to get the call before Bruno based on talent alone. Let’s face it, Radek isn’t known for playing a full season. At his recent rate, he’s lucky if he gets half a season completed. This also means that Travis Hamonic’s possibility of joining the Islanders line-up out of training camp just got slimmer. But that doesn’t mean he won’t get a shot at some point in the year. Starting the young guy in Bridgeport isn’t a bad thing either. Defenseman shouldn’t be rushed to the NHL. Travis will have his day and he won’t have to wait very long.
Wisniewski was recently signed by the Ducks to a $3.25 million salary, which helps the Islanders get closer to the cap floor without putting a major dent in Charles Wang’s wallet. The fact that his contract is a one-year deal may help the Isles in exploring trade routes at the deadline since he will be an impending UFA. But it also means that Wisniewski will probably try to play beyond his abilities to earn a promoted contract, whether it’s with the Islanders or another team. Plus, Snow only had to give up a 3rd round draft pick to land the D-man. That’s a very shallow price for this type of player.
Snow’s subtle moves come and go every year. His first off-season brought Mark Streit; last off-season brought Dwayne Roloson; and this off-season he’s brought James Wisniewski, and I am willing to bet the savvy GM has at least one more trick up his sleeve. The offense could still use a little more polish and a top-six forward would put this team at an added advantage over last season. It may not be anyone that’s going to make you jump and hit your head on the ceiling, but it could be someone that Isles fans will give a thumbs up too. As seen with Streit and Roloson, Garth’s low-key signings have proven to be some of the best, and I expect Wisniewski to follow suit.
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