Mark Streit's masterful performance on the Islanders blueline this season has been so stellar -- yet so obvious -- that my appreciation has resorted more to single lines thrown here and there in the middle of game recaps, rather than the fawning (and obvious) tributes to the best player on a 30th-place team that you'd expect from someone who thinks about such a team more than is healthy.
Throwaway lines like, "That loss stunk, but man -- where the hell would we be without Mark Streit?" were about all I'd say. Because his role has been so significant, you almost feel silly repeating it over and over. "Boy, isn't Streit great?" Plus, it's quite painful to imagine this injury-ravaged, depth-deprived season without the summer's best free agent signing
|2008-09 - Mark Streit||67||15||38||53||8||54||10||1||1||0||136||11.0|
But the occasion of his Masterton nomination is reason enough to finally get an appreciation -- and admission -- off my chest...
A Swiss who didn't make it to the NHL until age 27, Streit is making up for lost time -- and determined to continue improving. The effort has earned him the deserved Islanders nomination for the Masterton Award. Greg Logan has more, with reaction from Streit.
I confess: I'm complicit in Streit's slow acceptance on these North American shores. I first really noticed him in the 2006 Olympics, when announcers mentioned his "swing" role as power play blueliner and winger in Montreal. I observed how good he was for Team Switzerland, but I dismissively accepted hockey conventional wisdom -- "Hey, he's how old and barely on the NHL radar? Pshhh..." -- so I wrote off his excellent Olympic play at the time as the relative product of shining next to inferior Swiss teammates.
Fortunately, by last season I woke up. And thankfully, last summer at age 31 he jumped at the chance for a regular role -- which is the reason the Islanders landed him, in a free agent coup the Islanders likely won't replicate until their arena future is settled. Here's Streit's description of the move [same link]:
"A big step was leaving Montreal and making the step to the Islanders, and they gave me the opportunity to play as a full-time defenseman and to take a lot of responsibility, playing power play, PK and facing the good lines from the other teams. I think I improved my overall game. It's a different story when you play 13 or 14 minutes in Montreal and play on the power play and the fourth line as a wing or you play 26 minutes as a defenseman and face good teams and good lines. That's a big challenge. I absolutely loved it."
This season, he's simply led the team in ice time on a nightly basis, keyed their power play, led the team in points all season (4th among blueliners league-wide), and played a solid two-way role as one of the few Islanders on the "plus" side (+8) of the +/- column. You could also argue that his move has played a major role in the Canadiens teetering in 8th place this late in the season.
One coincidental example of his place: The Islanders' four-game win streak in February coincidentally snapped after Streit was hurt -- after which they lost all five games (0-4-1) without him, before winning as soon as he returned.
Oh, and he's become a noticeable and vocal leader on the team, playing no small part in current partner Bruno Gervais' progress this season. His success made it all the more odd that Guy Carbonneau (since fired, mind you) was so reluctant to give Streit any credit -- a phenomenon I suspect was due more to Guy's relationship with the media (and where he thought their questions were leading) rather than his opinion of Streit. But who knows?
In short, Streit is the best thing to happen to the Islanders in 2008-09. And they have him -- hallelujah! -- for four more years at a great rate ($4.1 million). His nomination is a well-deserved no-brainer.