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Grading the Islanders: Richard Park, departing utility knife?

Jon Sim's re-signing -- heck, even ol' Dave Scatchard's signing with the Blues -- proves no UFA is officially gone or done until his agent gives up all hope. But it's looking like Richard Park, a tireless, durable and versatile center/winger under two different Islanders coaches, has been left off the Island.

People generally have a positive opinion of Park: He's likable, he's no-nonsense, his quiet interviews conceal what is a respected voice in the proverbial room. The Islanders' best faceoff man last year, he is that rare checking-line forward who has the hands and poise to fill in on higher lines in a pinch. A Park wrister into the top corner is a beautiful thing, but ultimately his game is suited to a more dedicated defensive role.

While the questions on your mind -- Have the Islanders really replaced him with Zenon Konopka? Might he be worth bringing back? Is there another signing coming? -- are worthy topics for discussion in comments, the first question and the topic of our poll today is: How do you grade Park's 2009-10?

Richard Park

#10 / Right Wing / New York Islanders



May 27, 1976

NHL Seasons: 12 (inc. 3 partial)

Contract: UFA, $800k salary/$750k cap hit in 2010

2008-09 Grade: 7.3

Preseason View: "Park is our Swiss Army knife. Keep him clean and sharp."

Seriously, where do they get these profile photos?

A Few Notes to Consider

Park's Durability: In four seasons with the Islanders, Park missed just 12 games -- 11 of them in 2008-09. He's probably less physical than your prototype "checking" forward, but his game appears to protect his health and in turn his speed -- that all-important but diminishing asset of the utility forward. It's reasonable to guess at age 34 he's nearing his decline, but he's not dealt with any nagging injuries or maladies that make you think his body is barking.

Park's Usage: As evidence of the Islanders' better roster, Park skated 1.5 fewer minutes per game in 2009-10 while getting the same amount of PK minutes. That drop came mainly through not being needed to fill in on the powerplay Despite not benefiting from four PP goals like he did in 2008-09, Park had the same number of points and a better plus-minus than the first season under Gordon. His faceoff win rate also went up from 49.0 to 51.5%, even though he took by far the most shorthanded faceoffs on the team.

But for a while there in the first 40 games, Park's plus-minus was epically bad. Had he finally lost a step? Was it due to the mean bounces of plus-minus? Was he weighed down by weaker linemates (Hello Nate, hi Tim)? Possibly a mix of all of the above.

GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG TOI PKtoi PPtoi FO% Sh%
2008 - 09 Richard Park 71 14 17 31 -13 34 4 2 17:10 2:47 1:37 49.0 10.1
2009 - 10 Richard Park 81 9 22 31 -9 28 0 1
15:45 2:46 0:19 51.5 6.2

When asked about the plus-minus figure, Scott Gordon defended Park multiple times and said he was the victim of circumstances beyond his control (example: In the first three games of the season, Park was minus-5). It hit a low of minus-21 in early January -- which is coincidentally when Nate Thompson was claimed on waivers by Tampa Bay. Hmm... By the end of the year Park's plus-minus was back "up" to minus-9. I remember looking at tape of a scattering of his goals against and concluding Gordon wasn't just blowing smoke when defending him.

So what was the deal? Here's a guess: A full 38% of Park's even-strength shifts were with either Nate Thompson or Tim Jackman or both. Another healthy chunk throws either Jon Sim or an injured Doug Weight into the equation. So not only was he in the jack-of-all-trades constant line-shuffling role, but also the majority of his 5-on-5 minutes were spent with the worst teammates. As for his PK time -- whose numbers don't look good overall -- 32% of those shifts were with Thompson as well.

Strange Triangle: Thompson, Park, Konopka

But that does feed the question: If the Islanders aren't bringing Park back, then why? It's possible the Isles see Konopka as replacing Park's most important asset -- faceoffs -- but if so they're doing it with a player who plays fewer minutes, is less versatile and is, ultimately, worse. Maybe with proper line matching this can be mitigated by a balancing of the scales in other areas -- and it's not like the Islanders were world-beaters under last year's status quo -- but Park's vacated role as speedy PK guy remains a concern.

In fact, a better question than "Can Konopka really replace enough of Park?" might be: "Is Konopka an upgrade over Thompson?" That's essentially the trade both the Lightning and Islanders have made, anyway.

The Poem

For near-minimum wage
You take all the tough draws
And you take them better
Than all other Isles

But the NHL is thankless
To the vet utility crew
Plumbers wait all summer
To hear offers renewed

If this is really goodbye
Good luck on the UFA mark
You're a beloved Islander
Good on ya Richard Park

The Grade

Now that we've put our violins back in the case, here is where you vote a grade for Park's 2009-10 season based on your preseason expectations. That means if you expected to see a big decline but didn't witness it, he exceeded your expectations and gets an above-average grade. If you expected more from him and didn't see it, you knock him down a peg.

Whatever your rationale and criteria, comments are a good place to flesh it out -- as well as muse what the Islanders' plans are at center (is Belanger interest legit?) and on the PK unit.

Travel notice: Note, I'm actually out of town, on the water and off the grid, so I won't be able to respond to any comments or corrections until after the weekend. (A blogger's gotta chill, you know.) Keep that in mind if, by chance, Park has a new contract by the time this post is published.