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Islanders 1st Half Report Cards: Defensemen, or patients

Woo-hoo, first semester's over.
Woo-hoo, first semester's over.

When preparing for the defensemen you will need through an NHL season, 8-10 guys is about right. Injuries happen, call-ups, waivers, changes in favor, etc. But half way through, having 10 guys with 14 games played already? And 9 guys with 20 games or more?

That means something else has happened. Something like season-ending injuries to Mike Mottau and Mark Eaton, month-plus absences for Milan Jurcina and Andrew MacDonald, plus your usual bangs (Bruno Gervais, broken face; Jack Hillen, concussion; Radek Martinek, wrist). So evenwith 44 games in the books, the D-man with the most games played (Eaton) is done, and the guy with the third-most is playing for the Canadiens.

All that turnover makes issuing mid-term grades harder than normal, but we'll give it a shot.

All of these guys are graded with consideration for the merry-go-round of partners and roles they've been through thanks to injuries, as well as with recognition that they've played under two coaches. However, none (except Hamonic and Reese) escape blame for some role in the previous coach's departure.

Also: Obviously this is just for fun, a thought- and discussion-starter to think about roles and performances. Feel free to ridicule the professor T.A. giving out the grades. For reference, here were the 1st quarter grades.


Class Abstract

The Islanders have just eight goals from the blueline this year, three of them from the departed James Wisniewski (all on the powerplay). Jurcina also has three, one shorthanded and two at even strength. Hillen and Martinek have the other two.

The only blueliner who isn't a minus after 44 games is Jurcina, who is even. Wisniewski brought up the rear with a minus-18 in 32 games, still tied for worst on the team.

But plus/minus is a dicey stat even for a full season, much less 30-some games. So in the write-ups below I'll include a few "Quality of Competition" rankings -- ranking within the team -- from the venerable and terrifying Gabe Desjardins at Behind the Net

QoC: Quality of Competition  - Average relative plus/minus of opposing players, weighted by head-to-head ice time
Corsi Rel QoC - Average relative Corsi of opposing players, weighted by head-to-head ice time
Corsi QoC - Average Corsi of opposing players, weighted by head-to-head ice time

Again, plain plus/minus is about goals scored for and against at even strength -- with no accounting for luck, bad goaltending, etc. A higher QoC means you're probably playing against the opposition's best. Corsi is shots plus/minus -- reasoning that shots for/allowed are a better indicator than plus/minus, since goaltending behind you and against you is less of a factor. Playing against players with high Corsi means those players typically outshoot their opposition, and thus are good, or generally maintain puck possession.

One way to look at these intra-team QoC rankings is as a measure of how the coach uses the defenseman at even strength: Against the best? Against the middle tier? Or sheltered against the opposition's worst? (e.g. You can see from Gervais and Reese's rankings that they're pretty clearly sheltered.)

Mark Eaton

GP G A P +/- PIM Hits BkS TOI PKtoi SOG Sh%
2010-11 - Mark Eaton 34 0 3 3 -2 8 30 82 20:21 3:05 29 0

QoC: 3rd
Rel Corsi QoC: 3rd 
Corsi QoC: 2nd

The joke is that with very little showing up on the score sheet (even hits are less than once per game), Eaton is as vanilla as they come. He is someone with generally safe defensive instincts who can hold down a role on a Cup winner -- but the question is how effective he can be in a bigger role, against consistently tough opposition. He's not sexy, but he's held his own, hasn't bled goals against, and was a go-to penalty killer and shot blocker. Grade: B-minus.


Radek Martinek

GP G A P +/- PIM Hits BkS TOI PKtoi SOG Sh%
2010-11 - Radek Martinek 33 1 5 6 -3 13 42 61 21:09 2:56 51 2.0

QoC: 4th
Rel Corsi QoC: 4th
Corsi QoC: 6th

Seen as an "Ovechkin spy," Martinek's role hasn't been exclusively as shutdown guy this year, sometimes serving as the "babysitter" for a lesser partner. When healthy (his infinite caveat), he helps the Isles have two quality defensive pairs. Another important penalty killer, he's been old steady Radek -- sound, but leaving you wishing for a little more offense. Grade: B-minus.


James Wisniewski

GP G A P +/- PIM Hits BkS TOI *PPtoi SOG Sh%
2010 (NYI only) - James Wisniewski 32 3 18 21 -18 18 52 35 23:14 4:56 92 4.2

*Wiz also logged 1:34 per game on the PK, but obviously his PP time was much more relevant.

Wisniewski's QoC data at Behind the Net is now altered by being mixed in with his games for the Canadiens, but he was never a top guy for the Isles when it came to facing the opposition's best. At best, he was a middle guy, and sometimes used against the opponent's best in late situations where the Isles needed a goal.

I gave him a B-minus at the quarter pole, so it only seems to fair to carry that grade through since he was dealt not long after. He contributed on the powerplay, but his shortcomings also affected the powerplay. Regardless, he was expelled from class before the term was over. Grade: Transcript and possessions shipped to Quebec.


Jack Hillen

GP G A P +/- PIM Hits BkS TOI PKtoi SOG Sh%
2010-11 - Jack Hillen 30 1 4 5 -5 16 27 58 15:58 1:26 30 3.3

QoC: 9th
Rel Corsi QoC: 7th
Corsi QoC: 4th

Just like that Hillen, who started the season as a perennial scratch, is fourth in games played on the blueline. Through the first quarter he'd only compiled 11 games and about 12:01 per game, but his ice time and responsibility has steadily risen since. He's showing signs of turning around a tough season. It's the kind of turn that makes you wonder if the final trimester of his wife's pregnancy -- and the uncertainty around his role on the team early on -- was weighing on him. Grade: C-minus, trending up.


Andrew MacDonald

GP G A P +/- PIM Hits BkS TOI *PKtoi SOG Sh%
2010-11 - Andrew MacDonald 29 0 14 14 -6 10 17 74 22:41 2:32 37 0

*MacDonald's season average is now up to 2:55 per game on the PP, too.

QoC: 2nd
Rel Corsi QoC: 2nd
Corsi QoC: 7th

MacDonald began the season still unsung and now we might even be too high on him. Either way, his absence was notable when he went down with a broken hand, which coincided with the Islanders' 14-game winless streak, the first 10 of which helped usher Scott Gordon away from the bench.

An admirer of his defensive instincts since the first time I saw him live, I never saw the offensive ability that made both Gordon and Jack Capuano say A-Mac was a good fit for the powerplay. Now here were are 10 games since the Wisniewski trade, and MacDonald has 10 powerplay assists, the same total Wiz had compiled in 32 games.

Through attrition, A-Mac has been a go-to top-pair guy and even took on the added responsibility of partnering young Travis Hamonic. Both have looked good together, although overtaxing them at this age is a concern. With a greater role he's been on the ice for more goals against; the 5-on-5 save percentage of Isles goalies while A-Mac is on the ice is just .896, which tells you either he's had some tough luck or given up better chances. Grade: B+.


Milan Jurcina

GP G A P +/- PIM Hits BkS TOI PKtoi SOG Sh%
2010-11 - Milan Jurcina 26 3 6 9 0 20 75 53 17:59 2:30 38 7.9

QoC: 6th
Rel Corsi QoC: 6th
Corsi QoC: 1st

After just a quarter-season's worth of games, Jurcina received a one-year extension and a raise. A look at his role and figures tells you why.

The skeptics will always look at him with Big Body-Don't Hit syndrome, but Jurcina generally uses his size well to expand his coverage in the defensive zone, he throws some mean hits (the most on the team, in fact) when given the opportunity, and his shot is a threat albeit an underutilized one. Grade: B.


Bruno Gervais

GP G A P +/- PIM Hits BkS TOI PKtoi SOG Sh%
2010-11 - Bruno Gervais 26 0 4 4 -8 21 23 48 15:01 1:23 21 0

QoC: 8th
Rel Corsi QoC: 8th
Corsi QoC: 8th

Well, kudos to Bruno for sticking up for teammates, even if it ended in a one-punch takedown and broken cheekbone at the fist of Colin White. That time on the shelf and premature return sporting a full cage just added to existing challenges. Gervais had an even tougher start than Hillen, spending life as a multiple scratch and getting his first game of the season in as fourth-line winger.

As usual, Gervais has had his moments where you see his potential -- be it skating, puck-moving, or hitting -- mixed with moments that leave you scratching your head. Gervais can be a good defenseman's responsible partner, as he showed with Mark Streit two seasons ago. But on a thin team Gervais is often partnered with someone else below average (say, Dylan Reese), and that leads to problems. How you grade him really depends on what you expect, and whether you think it's fair that his partner is usually weaker, too. Grade: D+.


Travis Hamonic

GP G A P +/- PIM Hits BkS TOI PKtoi SOG Sh%
2010-11 - Travis Hamonic 24 0 7 7 -10 20 44 50 20:56 2:05 39 0

QoC: 1st
Rel Corsi QoC: 2nd 
Corsi QoC: 3rd

It's tempting to rave about Hamonic -- such poise, such smart instincts, all at age 20 -- but you have to keep in mind it's been just 24 games. So, two fewer games than Gervais, albeit 112 more total minutes. While Gervais and Chris Campoli were the last two home-grown Islanders D-men who arrived with considerable hope (we'll exclude A-Mac from that, as a pleasant surprise), Hamonic is actually the real deal.

Hamonic's seven even-strength points are second among Isles blueliners only to Wisniewski. As with A-Mac, there have been more goals against lately and the Isles goalie save percentage (5-on-5) with Hamonic on the ice is just .884, which has to be at least a little due to bad luck and tough assignments. Grade: B+, graded on an advanced youth curve.


Mike Mottau

GP G A P +/- PIM Hits BkS TOI *PKtoi SOG Sh%
2010-11 - Mike Mottau 20 0 3 3 -12 8 17 33 20:20 2:03 21 0

*Mottau also saw 2:06 per game of PP time.

QoC: 7th
Rel Corsi QoC: 5th
Corsi QoC: 5th

Mottau's season was interrupted by a scary eye injury and ended by confirmation of a surgery-necessitating hip injury shortly thereafter. So, his 20 games are not only a small sample (and colored by the awful winless streak), they also make you wonder how much of his performance was hindered by a hip issue whose severity was not yet clear. Grade: Incomplete and unclear, but a C-minus at the time of his injury.


Dylan Reese

GP G A P +/- PIM Hits BkS TOI PKtoi SOG Sh%
2010-11 - Dylan Reese 14 0 1 1 -7 8 7 9 13:13 0:43 9 0

QoC: 5th
Rel Corsi QoC: 9th
Corsi QoC: 9th

Normally I don't pick on bottom-rung players for being bottom-rung players, but after last season's 19-game callup I expected better. (Was the Freddy Meyer IV Effect really so strong as to cover his partner Reese's warts?) Reese has rarely looked good this year, and partnering with Gervais in limited exposure probably hasn't helped either player.

With limited minutes, Reese hasn't had much opportunity, but he hasn't made much of those either. He was waived recently but played afterward, so his tenure as seventh defenseman may have fewer than nine games left. Grade: Likewise incomplete, but may not make it through the end of the term.

*  *  *

To repeat: Obviously this is just for fun, a thought- and discussion-starter. Feel free to ridicule the professor T.A. giving out these grades and issue your own which will be weighed by the dean on appeal.