FanPost

(New) Gaming the Goon Gambit

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Are hockey fights such as the one above between Witter and Boston's Milan Lucic going the way of the Dodo in the new NHL? Perhaps not. But the old fashioned pure goon-enforcer types whose sole value is to go out and drop the gloves usually with  the opponent's goon ARE rapidly becoming a thing of the past. The premium placed on skill by the new rules and cap limits is seeing to that.

In his book The New Game: How Hockey Saved Itself  (Toronto: Viking Canada, 2007), Steve Paikin writes:

Are hockey fights such as the one above between Witter and Boston's Milan Lucic going the way of the Dodo in the new NHL? Perhaps not. But the old fashioned pure goon-enforcer types whose sole value is to go out and drop the gloves usually with  the opponent's goon ARE rapidly becoming a thing of the past. The premium placed on skill by the new rules and cap limits is seeing to that.

In his book The New Game: How Hockey Saved Itself  (Toronto: Viking Canada, 2007), Steve Paikin writes:

In the old game, there was always a place for a player who couldn't score goals but knew how to drop the gloves and beat his opponent's brains in. Not in the new game. Those one-trick ponies now have an almost permanent seat in the press box or are losing their jobs altogether.

I heartily recommend Paikin's book. It is a superb introduction into the new NHL. As he observes, NHL franchises simply cannot afford to keep an enforcer on the roster unless he has a redeeming talent. He has to be able to help the club in other ways. The day of defenders clutching, grabbing, interfering, etc. with opposing forwards is also gone. The new rules have seen to that as well.

Now this may seem passe to some, but many Islander fans have panicked as Eastern Conference teams like the Leafs, the Flyers, the Rangers, and even the Capitols have signed big physical players. The fear has been that not only will these players intimidate John Tavares and throw him off his game. It has also been that he may suffer a crippling injury.

These fears are misguided. First, there are ways to "protect" Tavares without bringing in new faces. With a modest bulking up, Tavares will be about the same size as Sid and former great Phil Esposito (to whom he compares himself ). Also, if he is placed on a line with Trent Hunter and newcomer Matt Moulson (or perhaps Jesse Joensuu) and either Brendan Witt or Andy Sutton is sent on the ice during his shift, that will give the Islanders more than enough physical presence to discourage cheap shots.

Second, and more important, the most effective way to "protect" Tavares is NOT by adding enforcers to the Islander roster. It is by adding players who will improve our powerplay.  If it becomes clear that being shorthanded against the Islanders will likely result in a goal against, opposing squads will be VERY reluctant to make cheap hits on Tavares.

Such a player is, in fact, available. Anton Babchuk apparently no longer fits into Carolina's plans and they are prepared to let him go back to Russia to play in the KHL. If, however, Garth offered them a third round pick (we have two for 2010) and offered him a one or two year deal for between $1 million and $1.5 million, Babchuk could become an Islander and our second unit powerplay quarterback.

Babchuk produced comparable offensive numbers to our #1 powerplay quarterback, Mark Streit and his plus / minus was far better than Streit's. He is a bit of a diamond in the rough, but Coach Gordon and his assistant  Dean Chynoweth are gifted at developing young talent--especially defensemen. And, of course, Streit would make a superb mentor. There is a need for another defender on the Islander roster and Babchuk seems a perfect fit. Hopefully this gets done.

There are a number of variables that will determine how competitive the Islanders will be this season. Chief among them may well be DP's ability to return and play effectively. The building of a potent line around John Tavares and greatly improved play from developing players like Okposo, Bailey, and Bergenheim are also critical. Another vital factor will be whether the Islanders can develop an effective powerplay. Adding Babchuk could be the key to a successful season.

<em>Submitted FanPosts do not necessarily reflect the views of this blog or SB Nation. If you're reading this statement, you pass the fine print legalese test. Four stars for you.</em>

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