As per Islanders trend each year, the roster currently includes an extra skater for the defensive department. The core consists of Mark Streit, Bruno Gervais, Andy Sutton, Freddy Meyer, Brendan Witt, Radek Martinek, and Jack Hillen. With an extra d-man, Gordon has been sitting Bruno for the past two games in order to get Hillen some playing time. Although injuries always seem to be a problem with the Islanders, I hope this is an area that management fixes sooner rather than later.
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Brendan Witt was the one Islander who I was absolutely stoked about when the team announced his signing just before the Neil Smith era came to a close. I always wanted him on this team for the way he plays, but as time has gone on, his physical prowess has faded. He does deliver the occasional big hit as seen with Ruslan Fedotenko on opening night, but he doesn't play like that consistently. He's older and a bit slower than the rest of the defenseman and seems to have trouble keeping up. That could have a lot to do with the fact that he's a -9, the team worst +/-. Last year he was a -34. This has become an issue for Witt and the coaching staff might want to think about sitting him a few games and letting someone like Gervais try to work his way back into the lineup. If he continues playing this way, I would not be surprised if he is shipped out at this year's trade deadline.
Andy Sutton is a big guy who does not throw enough hits but makes up for it with his shot-blocking. He does it effectively and on a relatively consistent basis. But I will admit, there is a big problem if Freddy Meyer, someone who is almost a foot shorter than you, is playing more physically along the boards than Andy. He must start using his frame to his advantage if he's going to help out Rolly and Marty in net.
Martinek and Meyer are similar players in my eyes and the Islanders should only keep one that stays healthy. Martinek has proven that he is a very reliable defensive defenseman, and although he has not hurt himself thus far, we all know it's almost inevitable. I can't ignore that Meyer missed almost all of last season either, but he plays more of a physical game and I feel is a little bit quicker on his feet.
Throw in the fact that this team does not have anyone who can put up points from the blue-line with the exception of Streit. That is a HUGE problem. This team does not have enough scoring up front for only one d-man to carry offensive responsibility. Gervais has been off to a terribly slow start, but may emerge as a number four defenseman - eventually...but he's not that type of player right now. Hillen is still our sixth or seventh defenseman, but if he can play like he did against the Sharks in a full-time role, he may be one of our more effective offensive guys on the back-end.
In my opinion, this is not a good set of defenseman for a rebuilding team in it's second year. Last year it was fine, but management should have done a better job of bringing in someone to make a difference. Plus, Hillen is the only one who can be considered a "youth." Sure, Gervais counts too, but he's not really a kid anymore and has been here for some time. Maybe de Haan will get a chance next year, but other than Hillen and Calvin, the Islanders farm system is a little thin as far as defenseman go.
It's way too early to be talking about the draft, but I expect the Islanders to be looking to address this need come next June. But after all, that depends on where they finish in April.
It will be interesting to see who Gordon sits and plays this Wednesday against the Carolina Hurricanes.
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