When the Islanders announce their line-ups via social media before games, a few common phrases can be read across the internet including, "Why is Brian Strait playing?," "Strait again? Seriously?," and "Did Brian Strait miss his launch into the sun?"
It's been a rough year or three for the one-time waiver pick-up, and the defensive depth the Islanders added over the off-season has made Strait (even more) arguably the team's most expendable defenseman. Yet, when someone is injured on the blueline, Strait is the first player in to replace him. He's already logged time in all but three of the Islanders' games this season while promising Matt Donovan remains a healthy scratch. Why?
During the second intermission of the Islanders' 1-0 win over the Coyotes on Saturday, we may have finally gotten our answer.
In an MSG Networks fluff piece about the intrateam fantasy football league, we learned a few surprising nuggets about Strait. For starters, he is the league's commissioner, and was hand-picked for the position by captain John Tavares himself. Second, Strait made himself a candidate by showing a level of dedication and energy for fantasy football that far outstripped his teammates.
"Every other league I've been in I've been over the top and I get kinda caught up in it," Strait said in the taped piece. "I bring a lot of energy to the league and this year they needed a new commissioner.
"So Johnny actually asked me if I wanted to be commissioner and I wasn't going to turn him down. I think that if I bring an excitement level to it then everybody else will and so far, so good. I think everybody's pretty excited about it, there's a lot of trade talk in the locker room and, good or bad - some guys aren't the best players - I pride myself on my fantasy team."
While Strait might be a weak link on the ice, it's clear from the video that the opposite is true in terms of fantasy football. There Strait, a veteran fantasy player, is focused and trustworthy, so much so that Tavares and company would put their free time, their friendship (and most likely, their money) in his hands.
Holding that post can make you a very important person within a very small group of people.
You're the one who monitors scores and standings, mediates trades, keeps the league hot stove cooking, knows the rules (or, in most cases, makes them up but enforces them as fairly as possible) and generally keeps everyone involved and having fun. If you take it seriously, it can be a lot of work. You'll want to keep track of what people like and don't like and make changes to maximize participation.
If this video is any indication, Strait is doing all of these things and more inside the Islanders locker room. He's probably the first guy the players seek out on Monday and Tuesday mornings to talk to about scores, he's probably hounded all week about waiver pick-ups or trades and he's probably harassed all day every Sunday by friends trying to squeeze a tenth of a point out of every fourth string wide receiver in the NFL. All while trying to play his own team to a title.
It's not just Strait. The video shows the Islanders players are just like every other fantasy football league in the country.
Thomas Hickey, who doesn't really watch the NFL: "I don't really have a certain team more so just my fantasy team."
Michael Grabner, who's always trying to make a trade, even if they make no sense: "My team right now is not where I want it to be. I'm trying to make some trades. I'm a San Fransisco fan and I've got Marshawn Lynch so I'm trying to dump him off on someone because I don't like the Seahawks."
Cal Clutterbuck, who plays to have fun, but isn't as into it as those others dweebs: "Brian Strait puts a lot of man hours into his fantasy team."
And vocal dissenter Travis Hamonic, who thinks the whole thing is stupid. "I'm a proud Canadian, proud to be from Winnipeg. We have the Blue Bombers there and they keep us all busy for sure."
As commissioner, Brian Strait is dealing with all of these voices and most likely a few more. He's trying to keep a completely ridiculous, unneeded, nonessential pastime fun and interesting for grown, bored men with a lot of other actual important things to worry about.
And it seems like he's doing a better than OK job at it.
Is being the Islanders' resident Roger Goodell enough to keep him on the team all season? Maybe the fantasy football is so important to team morale that even when everyone is healthy and playing every game, the off-ice recreation will be the difference between who's on the active roster and who isn't. Or maybe Garth Snow will cut Strait loose after week 16 of the NFL season, when most fantasy leagues finish up. It's impossible to know.
Through this lens, we now know much more about mystery man Brian Strait. In at least one arena, he is responsible, industrious, spirited. And he's much better at getting his buddies to watch a Titans-Jaguars game in October than he is at delivering a crisp breakout pass from the Islanders defensive zone.