By Daniel Friedman
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Locked in a tight race within the Metropolitan Division and on the verge of securing a playoff berth, the Islanders needed some insurance.READ MORE: Driver Charged With DWI, Manslaughter In Crash That Killed Mother, Daughter On Rockaway Boulevard In Queens
They got it at the trade deadline in the form of veteran depth forward Tyler Kennedy and backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth, both of whom will help plug up some glaring flaws in the current roster.
On the eve of the deadline, the consensus belief in Islander Country was that the team intended to sit tight and not really make any moves, barring unexpected circumstances. That was never the belief of this writer, but nonetheless it was a prevalent theme.
Meanwhile, reality and logic settled in on Monday. The fact is that 99 percent of teams in the Isles’ position would’ve been active at the deadline, and as such, general manager Garth Snow did what he needed to do – he made subtle, yet significant deals to bolster his squad.
There were no blockbusters, no prospects handed over to the enemy a la Mike Milbury; no major roster overhauls. Only backup goaltender Chad Johnson was sent to Buffalo for Neuvirth, and for good reason.
Johnson’s a good guy and it’s a shame things didn’t work out the way everyone had hoped when the Islanders signed him to a two-year contract this summer. However, being a good guy doesn’t quite cut it in the NHL. It’s all about performance and whether or not you can get the job done. With the exception of a few games here and there, the bottom line is that Johnson simply could not.
As I’d mentioned in a previous article, not having a reliable backup is more troublesome than you might think. The coaching staff needs a puck-stopper they can trust and, over time, it became abundantly clear that Jack Capuano could not count on Johnson to really step in. Hence, the relatively low number of starts for Johnson and the larger gaps in between them.
Jaroslav Halak needs to be well rested for the playoffs, and given the fact that the Metro is essentially a coin flip right now, the Islanders cannot afford to risk losing games just because the backup is in net. Neuvirth gives them the reliability they’ve been seeking ever since Johnson proved incapable of doing so. He has better stats on a worse defensive team (Sabres) and certainly is more experienced.
As soon as Johnson reverted to his porous self in his final start, I knew he was getting dealt. There was no way the Isles were going to risk something like this when the solution is pretty simple to obtain.
I also really like the Kennedy move. You might remember him from his days as a Pittsburgh Penguin, and given his overall performance in San Jose, you might want to stick with that distant memory. He’s a versatile forward who can play in multiple situations, including the penalty kill (though he admittedly hasn’t been doing much of that). Given that he’s real solid without the puck, that’s a bit surprising.
Speaking with some folks in San Jose who’d covered Kennedy the past few years, the sense was that he just never seemed to fit into coach Todd McLellan’s style and therefore had trouble making a dent. Coming to a new situation and different coach on Long Island could be beneficial for him, and I think it will be.READ MORE: Citizen App Seeks 'Field Team Members' To Live Stream Breaking News Stories
And keep in mind, Kennedy has proven to be a clutch playoff performer, with six game-winning goals among his 76 career postseason games.
One of the concerns fans have about bringing aboard another forward is the obvious surplus when Kyle Okposo, Casey Cizikas and Mikhail Grabovski (I think that’s everyone, right?) return from injury.
My question is: At what point this season has every forward been healthy? And, in the event that everyone does get healthy, will it really hurt to have an extra NHL-caliber forward – whether it’s Kennedy or Colin McDonald or whoever – at the ready should something go wrong or should Capuano want a different look every now and then? I certainly don’t think there’s any downside to it.
The one thing you might nitpick about is that Snow really might’ve been better off acquiring a veteran defenseman (either in addition to or instead of a forward), but to be honest we don’t know that he didn’t attempt to and, even still, there really isn’t much to complain about given the overall job he did on Monday.
Snow has had a masterful year, and he wasn’t about to just knowingly ignore the few issues his team still had and take his chances going into the postseason. He can say — or better still, the so-called experts online can say for him — that he’s content to sit tight until his face turns blue, but he’ll do that because he wants you to believe it.
The last thing Snow needs is for other GMs to get the perception he’s desperate to make a move, and that’s why the “inside information” he gives is actually intentional misdirection.
It’s sheer brilliance, really. You have to give him a ton of credit.
The Isles are now ready for the challenges ahead, though the penalty kill still needs to improve by a significant margin and that will require a lot more than Kennedy’s presence (assuming he ends up on the PK). Either way, they are indeed “a better team today than we were yesterday,” as Snow pointed out.
Whether or not the Islanders make it past the first round and deeper into the playoffs remains to be seen, but I’ll say this: Snow has given them the tools to get there.
At the end of the day, what more can you ask from your GM?MORE NEWS: NYC DOT Asks New Yorkers To Weigh In On Future Citi Bike Station Locations In Brooklyn, Queens
Follow Daniel Friedman on Twitter at @DFriedmanOnNYI