Tavares vs. Hedman: A Question of Intent

It's premature to act like the Islanders will have their choice of John Tavares or Victor Hedman in this summer's draft (Even in 30th place, they could as easily end up with the #2 pick). And god knows we'll have half the summer to talk about it. But...

... The indirect rumblings about their appreciation of the big Swedish defenseman have continued to mount in both Newsday and Islanderspointblank. So it might be worth preparing the fanbase (or is it other lottery GMs?) for that possibility, lest we have another Draft Day backlash for going with stability over sex appeal. No one is saying this is Pronger v. Daigle -- well, okay, it's been mentioned -- but that fateful choice is worth remembering, too.

The latest, from Islanders Newsday beatwriter Greg Logan's chat today:

Reader: With regards to the #1 pick would you equate Tavares to LaFontaine, and Hedman to Potvin. Therefore, you have to take Hedman?

Logan: I've been asking myself that question, but of course, it's stretch to suggest he could match what Potvin did. I don't think he's expected to be THAT good. But I understand your point about having a great two-way defenseman who can anchor the team. I think that traditional thinking might be very strong within the organization. It's kind of like college basketball and how it's hard to win the NCAA without a top point guard. If you have a guy who can control things from the back end and who has size like Hedman does, that's a powerful force to consider passing on the scorer, and we know how much the Isles need a goal scorer.

I have not watched Hedman. No one can predict whether he'll be a Zdeno Chara or just an Eric Brewer. To that end, no one really knows whether Tavares will be "generational" or just a very good scorer, two or three of which are on every good team. Just because Canadian media have stalked him since he was in diapers doesn't mean he'll do things like this with regularity.

So if the question is between someone who could be a dynamic scoring star or one who could be a cornerstone two-way defenseman, what do you do? If you could somehow know that they are of equal "value" relative to their positions, what should the Islanders do? In my philosophy of hockey team building, a franchise defenseman of Chris Pronger-like effect, who logs half of each game, shuts down opponents and quarterbacks your offense, is of bigger import than a sexy scoring star who scores a little bit above the rate of his peers.

If the Islanders' chief goal -- assuming relative equality, mind you -- is to have a Stanley Cup contender six years from now, which position would be more essential to that success? My hockey mind tells me the D-man, BUT: Six years from now is not all the Islanders should have in mind. Not in their particular situation.

Everyone knows the Islanders have trouble getting attention, have a lot of exhausted fans, and bring up the rear in NHL revenues. For their near-term needs, sex appeal and instant gratification is a very real need. Add Tavares to next year's lineup, and you have that. You have buzz. You have glimpses of genius that even the average fan (who's not showing up right now) can appreciate and will turn out for.

Add Hedman, on the other hand, and you have a project who might be very important but who will not show up on highlight reels. The type of subtle, steady influence whose brilliance escapes the average fan you're trying to court. (Anyone think Caps fans would have become this gaga over their long-struggling team if they had Nik Lidstrom instead of Alex Ovechkin?)

Lo, the development curve for big defensemen, and the fans' patience that is tested along the way. It's worth noting Pronger and Chara did not become the players we know today until reaching their second teams. While the hockey side of me would understand the decision, the fan in me would be absolutely stunned if the Islanders chose Hedman over Tavares.

Even if you agree with me that -- all things being equal -- a stud on the blueline is more important than a stud at center, it would take a whoooole lot of guts for the Islanders, in their market and fan situation, to go with the 1A pick. But one impression I get from observing Garth Snow from afar: I think he has that kind of guts. Scary.

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