It's a tale of two shoulders (or three, really).
Shoulder One: Mark Streit was a key bright spot in two otherwise ugly seasons before a severe shoulder injury wiped out all of 2010-11. A plus player on Islanders teams that bled goals his first two years, this season he's minus-15 and on pace for fewer shots and fewer goals than his two healthy years. Some wonder if he's slowed down, if it's a normal year post-major rehab, if it's because he's 34 (this month), if it's normal variance, or if it's Steve Staios (who's missed the last seven games with a concussion).
Shoulder(s) Two (and Three): Ales Hemsky draws the "enigmatic soft Euro" card, but all he did was appear in 86% of the first 517 possible games of his career, putting up a little shy of two shots and one point per game since the lockout. Then shoulder injuries struck, and it's been two years of hell. He's on his way back, but rehab is hard, some of his opportunities have gone to younger tanksgiving teammates, and the pending UFA looks like he might be run out of town in the fine tradition of Oilers stars before him.
Even after the 69-plus games of struggles post-injury, Hemsky has 406 points in 513 career games. The shoulders remain a worry at this stage, but Hemsky is still 28. Some contender may get a nice rental this spring. Some free-spending team might get a bargain injury discount next summer.
If the Oilers don't retain Hemsky, despite their influx of enviable drafted forwards, that rebuild will be doing one step forward, one step back. He's known more for his hands and points, but he's always been a fantastic possession player. If I could do the Ryan Smyth trade again this year, except for Hemsky, and except magically assuring Hemsky would sign an extension, I just might do it. (Well, not the first round pick, but...)
In any case, Streit and Hemsky make two interesting cases. Streit has another year left on his deal and is much older (though also a defenseman, who tend to age more gracefully), so he doesn't require the decision Hemsky's situation requires of Edmonton. But you're watching for how his game evolves and rebounds as he could potentially be a valuable rental to someone next year, if it came to that for the captain.
Hemsky has less time on his contract to prove his shoulders are fit, but by age he's just entering his Hossa As Annual Cup Finalist years. If I were a contender I'd call. If I were a free agent shopper next summer I'd definitely call.
- Today the Isles honor Ken Morrow. Newsday covers some of what he's done since 1993 as director of pro personnel. We compiled the videos and write-ups last night.
- Tomas Marcinko went into surgery last night after a skate blade hit his neck area. Check the links in that FanShot for updates. The Sound Tigers lost to Norfolk, 3-2.
- At the WJC, it's essentially over for the Americans, who ran into two hot goalies (52 saves for Petr Mrazek yesterday. The U.S. goalie was drafted 11th overall by Dallas, by the way.). Long live the Czechs. Long live proper beer. This has nothing to do with Hemsky, by the way.
- The Americans think they'll beat Canada tonight though. Not that it matters.
- The Danes are wascally ones, aren't they?
- Get your 6 game MVP ticket deal and meet the Gremlin and some Ice Girls.
- If you're into GVT (yeah you know me), Hockey Prospectus has this year's list updated.
- The Rangers and Panthers had a late game tizzy: Michael Del Zotto crosschecked Tomas Kopecky up high, Kopecky decked him, Michael Rupp tackled Kopeckey and started raining headshots down. Neither coach was pleased (Torts here, Dineen and video there).
So this is weird, an afternoon game on New Year's Eve. It just feels all out of sorts. Hopefully the Oilers, playing at 11 a.m. their time, feel the same. Hopefully they're focused on partying in the city tonight or something.
They haven't been good for the past two months -- folks who coronated their rebuild as "arrived" in October, please stand up -- and they're coming off a rough loss to division rival Minnesota Wild (who are also coming back down to Planet Regression).
I can't imagine what lineup changes might be made for today, but stay tuned. Or watch. It's in the afternoon, remember. The partying comes later.
Jack Capuano on Nino Niederreiter, who should be in the AHL but can't:
"For a young player like Nino, every day is going to be a challenge," Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano said. "Every game is going to be a challenge. We make mistakes as a team and there are still mistakes that he’s going to make and he’s going to continue to make. It’s a matter of video, it’s a matter of teaching and sitting down with him."
Capuano continued, "You don’t get that time and space that you get in the Western Hockey League. So for a young kid to come in, he’s a high-character guy, he’s a good teammate and he wants to get better every day. He’s very coachable. There are some things he still has to continue to work on."
I'd prefer him in the AHL (but alas, the CHL must be served), would concede him in the WHL, but confess to being curious how his lessons and development go in the next 40 games since he's here to stay.
Leave your final First Islanders Goal picks of 2011 here. Enjoy the game (if you remember), else Happy New Year, LHH fellow.