The Isbister Conundrum: A Metro Hockey Update
Sadly, everyone has regrets. Maybe your dad traded a Nolan Ryan rookie card for a pack of cigarettes when he was 17. Maybe you let your mom throw out your copy of Spider Man #1 without a fuss. Perhaps you thought the Internet and all that Windows nonsense was just a passing fad. Whatever your greatest mistake is, rest assured that the world of professional hockey is no exception.
Although no one outside of his family knows for sure if he was a fan of Betamax during the ‘80s, the New York Islanders’ general manager Mike Milbury has at least publicly admitted one of his greatest regrets: trading current NHL superstar Todd Bertuzzi to the Vancouver Canucks.
Some argued that, at the time, the trade made sense; Bertuzzi and rugged defenseman Bryan McCabe were sent West in exchange for veteran winger Trevor Linden, who was to provide strong two-way play and exceptional leadership qualities. Well, at least that’s how it was supposed to work out. After one uneventful season, Linden was subsequently dealt to the Montreal Canadiens (he’s now back in Vancouver), while McCabe eventually moved on to the Chicago Blackhawks before being traded again to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Bertuzzi, on the other hand, has evolved into a premier power forward.
Although considered a "bust" for his initial reluctance towards physical play, Bertuzzi has developed enough confidence and poise to slam enemy defensemen into the end boards and screen opposing netminders for tip-in goals. Vancouver’s top line of Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison, and Todd Bertuzzi is now considered one of the best in the game today and a major factor in the recent successes of the Canucks. Meanwhile, the Islanders have nothing to show for the deal.
History may repeat itself. According to various media sources, current Islander whipping boy Brad Isbister is set to be dealt (more on that later). As he has so far failed to live up to his potential, Isbister has fallen victim to what the Update calls Kovalev/Guerin syndrome. Bertuzzi suffered from it himself before his emergence, and Isbister may be able to shake it off when he is inevitably traded. The Kovalev/Guerin syndrome, named after a former Ranger and a former Devil, respectively, manifests itself like this: A young player who is considered bound for stardom perennially disappoints until after he is traded, whereby he then lives up to his hype with his new team. This occurs partly because of expectations that are unrealistic to begin with; few exceptions aside, not many 19-year olds can be expected to put aside the bright lights, unforgiving media, innumerable temptations and rowdy fans and score on a 100-point pace from the very moment they pull on a sweater emblazoned with the name of a big city on it.
Also, it is not uncommon for young "can’t miss" prospects to be shifted from role to role (Alexei Kovalev is perhaps the best example, as he was constantly shifted from right wing to center during his Ranger tenure. Inevitably, he often appeared confused about his position on the ice). This constant movement between positions is enough to drive thirty-something year old veterans mad, never mind someone who is only a few years removed from puberty.
Although his fate is, as of press time, uncertain, Isbister might just benefit from a change of scenery the same way Bertuzzi did. Either way, we’ll find out in a few years if Milbury regrets this deal.
An incident in a recent New Jersey Devils win showed just how incompetent league officiating is: Despite the fact that the Devils’ Jeff Friesen rammed into Canadiens goalie Jeff Hackett, both referees present still allowed Joe Niuwendyk’s ensuing goal (the eventual game-winner, by the way) to stand. Video replay clearly shows that Friesen’s hit purposely knocked Hackett out of the play.
-Speaking of the Devils, the attendance for their January 13 game against the Florida Panthers was a measly 10,191. This is further proof that the New York/New Jersey Metropolitan sports market simply cannot support three local hockey teams.
-Let’s hear it for the New York Ranger’s Petr Nedved. Although seemingly damned to an eternal hell by Madison Square Garden boobirds last season, the Czech center has improved his overall game. His hat trick in Monday’s 5-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs increased his team leading goal total to 17. More importantly is the physical edginess he has displayed as of late. While he’ll never be confused for agitator Matthew Barnaby, Nedved showed the Leafs that he won’t be intimidated by decking Toronto’s Wade Belak in the face as payback for an earlier hit.
-You know the National Hockey League is bad shape when not one, but two teams (the Ottawa Senators and the Buffalo Sabres) declare bankruptcy within the same week. The troubles of both teams could perhaps, if no buyers are found, lead to their contraction – which could actually be a GOOD thing for a bloated, financially unstable league that, despite its best efforts, struggles to remain relevant in the North American sports landscape.
-Finally, The Deal: According to numerous sources, the Islanders, Boston Bruins, and Tampa Bay Lightning are on the verge of a three-way blockbuster that started with Tampa’s puzzling acquisition of goalie John Grahame from Boston earlier this week. Allegedly, the Lightning will send Grahame, defenseman Pavel Kubina, and forward Fredrick Modin to the Isles in exchange for defenseman Roman Hamrlik. The Islanders are then supposed to trade goalie Chris Osgood and the aforementioned Brad Isbister to Boston for defenseman Kyle McLaren, who is currently holding out in a dispute with Bruin management. If such a deal were to occur, it still would not address the Isles’ need for additional scoring depth up front, unless Modin is able to relieve some of the offensive burden currently being carried by the likes of Mark Parrish and Alexei Yashin.