Whether you read the tea leaves or listen to the rumblings, it looks like Mark Streit's tenure with the New York Islanders will not reach a sixth year.
[UPDATE, June 4: Arthur Staple of Newsday has two sources telling him Streit will indeed hit the open market. His reported asking price is even richer than we imagined: 3 years north of $5.5 million per year. Pass.]
With all variables considered, that's not entirely bad; it's just how it is in a sport that is very much a business. Streit enjoys being an Islander but could probably command more money and security (i.e. term) elsewhere. The Islanders enjoy Streit but don't need him so badly that they should overspend or overcommit when younger depth is on the way just as his age should make him less valuable.
The reality of free agency is someone else will pay speculative prices to fill a need.
If this is the end, it shouldn't be a messy divorce. Both parties served the other well. The Islanders gave Streit money, commitment and opportunity to be a full-time defenseman when few would. Streit gave them a key defenseman who carried them on many nights in the lowest points of their rebuild, when few free agents would return their calls.
Everyone made out in this five-year relationship.
But even during his finest season as an Islander, you could look at Streit's age and the team's trajectory and realize they weren't going to match up perfectly: He would not be their most important defenseman when the franchise hit its stride again.
And if he and/or his agent say a raise or another long-term commitment is in order, well...
The only question was whether he would then take a pay cut for a lesser role to stick around and see the team's resurrection through. The answer increasingly looks like a "no."
This spring it was ironic, and probably telling, that Lubomir Visnovsky -- the once prodigal and suddenly essential defenseman -- accepted a two-year and handsomely funded extension at the same time negotiations with Streit were reportedly (usually by Arthur Staple of Newsday) stalled over lack of a third year.
Together they were easily two of the four most important Islanders defensemen in 2013. If you're the Islanders, you want to keep one of them and would even keep both late-30s blueliners -- but not at a price and risk that leaves you too exposed if both get injured or fall of the age cliff at the same time, particularly with new contracts coming due on youngsters like Travis Hamonic.
Supposed to be a Report Card, Not a Eulogy
Visnovsky will turn 37 in August. Streit will turn 36 in December. By age Visnovsky is the bigger risk; by performance Streit was the one they could more afford to lose.
Since this was supposed to be a report card, let's look at Streit's numbers:
|EV TOI/Gm||Rank||OZ %||Rank|
|Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|PP TOI/Gm||TOI Rank||Pts.||PK TOI/Gm||Rank|
|Penalty Plus/Minus||Is it Luck?
|Taken||Drawn||On-Ice Sht%||On-Ice Sv%||PDO|
Data above taken from NHL.com and Behind The Net. Linked categories will take you to relevant pages where you can find the rest of the data in context.
Some fans think Streit is declining. That's probably true, though the degree of his decline is debatable. It's also complicated by the fact Streit's five-year term was split by a full year lost to injury right in the middle of the contract.
Regardless, he was still an important defenseman and major contributor to the Isles at the end of season.
However, that doesn't change the fact his role had changed. He is closer and closer to "third pair, power play specialist," which is useful -- he was often saddled with a weaker partner, and his power play contributions were huge -- but is probably more replaceable than the the blueliners who rank above him.
In short, Streit was the Islanders' highest-producing offensive defenseman, but his usage with high offensive zone starts and the highest PP time on the team made that a "well he'd better be" kind of situation.
Further, the power play no longer runs solely through him. Where once John Tavares was a sneaky poacher, he is now the key cog on the power play. Where once the umbrella lived and died with Streit, now Visnovsky routinely threads passes and sneaks down low for back-door opportunities. It will be nerve-wracking to try to replicate the power play's success without Streit, but it's far from impossible.
If this is the end, at least he experienced playoff hockey at the Coliseum and gave the crowd some thrills, like this moment in Game 4 (as seen by ICanSeeForIslesAndIsles), a game where he scored twice:
Anyway, we swear this isn't his Islanders eulogy but rather his 2012-13 report card. So issue your grade, per LHH tradition, based on your preseason expectations.
Personally, I find Streit had a good season and it's reasonable to expect he'll have more. But the offensive flashes seem fewer, the defensive efforts to cover for himself or teammates seem less proficient than they once were.
If someone offers him three years and $16 million -- one of the numbers thrown around in media -- then his age 36-38 seasons will be someone else's gamble. And if he can stomach the burden of another town's expectations, he should probably take it.