The New York Islanders - along with every other NHL team and many other businesses - have temporarily suspended operations due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. The Center for Disease Control and World Health Organizations have strongly advised the public to practice self-quarantining and avoid close contact and crowds to limit the spread of the virus. But that doesn’t mean we can’t gather in a virtual space and talk about old hockey players.
As long as the Islanders are on pause, we’ll run this series to give folks a place to chat, reminisce, and generally relieve the stress of the times.
Remember that time the Islanders signed that free agent even though they were just about the last team anyone expected to sign him? No, not him. Not him either. Or them. And, uh, nope, not him, either.
I’m thinking about goalie Martin Biron, who signed with the Islanders on July 22, 2009 after almost a month of free agency. Biron was 32 at the time, but had just come off the two best seasons of his career. He had led the Flyers to the Eastern Conference finals in 2008 and racked up 65 wins, seven shutouts and a .915 save percentage in his two years in black and orange.
Of course, for almost a decade beforehand, Biron was an institution in Buffalo, first as the back-up to Dominik Hasek, then as the main man, then as the old vet to Ryan Miller’s hot shot newcomer. Between their appearance in the 1999 Stanley Cup Final and in back-to-back Eastern Conference finals in 2006 and 2007, the Sabres were very sub-mediocre. And the dude who played more games in the crease for them than anyone else during those years was Martin Biron.
His trade to the Flyers (for a second round pick that ended up becoming AAAA All Star TJ Brennan), gave him a team of other veterans with chips on their shoulder to play for, and he responded with the best run of his entire career. When his contract ran out, it appeared he’d have his pick of places to sign.
And yet, he ended up an Islander. I’m still not sure how or why.
I know why they wanted him, at least. This was the thick of the Rick DiPietro era, in which Rick’s health was never a given going to into a season, despite that doomed 15-year contact. So GM Garth Snow decided to play it safe and sign not one but two goalies that offseason. Dwayne Roloson signed a two-year deal on July 1. Twenty one days later, Snow inked Biron and spoke words that would send a chill up Islanders fans’ spines years later (emphasis mine):
“Adding Marty gives us three bona-fide number one goalies,” said Garth Snow, general manager of the Islanders. ”We learned about the importance of stability in our line-up from last year and he now allows us to have another quality starter.”
It didn’t take long for first year coach Scott Gordon to establish the 40-year-old Roloson as the team’s starter, but Biron’s big problem was run support. By late December, with the Islanders already in lottery position, Biron was the “beneficiary” of just 13 5-on-5 goals in his 15 starts (Thanks, Dom). There were some nice performances in that season to be sure: a 5-0 shutout over his old Sabres pals for his 200th NHL win; a 4-1 win over a fire sale-depleted Leafs team; a shootout win over Jaro Halak and the Habs. But he finished his one and only Islanders season with a 9-14-4 record, not a great mark, even for a back-up.
Here’s the “best” video of him as an Islander that I could find on YouTube. Seriously.
The Islanders weren’t really ever close to a playoff berth that year for many, many reasons. At the end of the 2009-10 season, he left as a free agent and signed with the Rangers, where he would spend the next four seasons as King Henrik’s squire. After retirement, he returned to Buffalo and currently he uses his 16 years in the NHL, chill Quebecois accent and baby blue eyes as an analyst for the Sabres broadcast crew and some national broadcasts. He recently discussed his careers (but not his Islanders stint) with our friends at Die By the Blade (Part I | Part II).
BONUS BIRON: Marty wasn’t the first or only Biron to play for the Islanders. A year after Marty and the Sabres were in the Cup final, his younger brother, Mathieu, played his rookie season for the Islanders. The defenseman was taken in the first round, 21st overall, by the Los Angeles Kings in 1998 and dealt to the Islanders along with Olli Jokinen, Josh Green and another first rounder in the Ziggy Palffy trade.
Mathieu played okay as a rookie for a supremely undermanned Islanders team, but spent most of his second season in the AHL. After that he was traded to Tampa Bay in a deal that landed the Islanders future cult hero Adrian Aucoin.
Mathieu hung around the NHL for a much longer time than you probably remember, playing for the Lightning, Panthers, Capitals as well as being property of the Sharks and Canadiens, too. He finished up in 2010 in Germany as a member of the Hamburg Freezers.
So the Islanders are the only team to employ both Biron brothers. That’s gotta count for something, right?