On Monday the only NHL action on tap was, curiously, the Tampa Bay Lightning visiting the New York Islanders in Brooklyn.
The game was essentially over at the end of the first, when the Lightning took a two goal lead with goals from Brown and Callahan. Yet, the game did have one unheralded matchup worth watching: the battle of the top two picks from the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
In the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the New York Islanders took center John Tavares. The Tampa Bay Lightning took Victor Hedman second. As usual, the Islanders made a mistake. Tavares is a great player. He is an elite center, at the top of his game. However, the Islanders are losing games because they have no ability to move the puck. Sure an elite of the elite center is nice, but is it more important than a top pairing elite defenseman?
This is not an argument about who the better player is. This is an argument about which player would have been a better fit with the Islanders.
Make no mistake the circumstances in which Hedman plays in Tampa are dramatically different than those in which Tavares plays. Hedman is surrounded by elite talent. Tavaraes is not. However, hypothetically imagine a situation where their roles are reversed.
John Tavares’s average ice time is 19 minutes. Hedman’s is 22. Based on time on ice alone, a top tier defenseman will have more of an impact on the game than a centerman. For reference, Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson plays 25 mins on average a game. Imagine Hedman playing 25 minutes a night for the Islanders. The opportunity for Hedman to make more of a difference to a struggling team than a forward, regardless of how good, is undeniable.
Hypothetically replace Tavares, with Hedman and keep the rest of the team intact. The Islanders might not as fun to watch. However, their defense would improve, as would their Corsi. Controlling the puck more, is the best way to keep the puck out of your own net. Hedman would likely be playing “Karlsson-esque” numbers. The proof they say is in the pudding. Ottawa is certainly not a cup contender. However, with a top tier elite Swedish defenseman the Sens have made the playoff four out of eight years since Karlsson has been drafted and seem like a solid bet to make the post season this season. Meanwhile in New York, the Islanders have only made the playoff three times since Tavares joined the team and are poised to miss this season. It seems like the Islanders chose poorly, again.
News from the Cheap Seats:
A ticket to see the Islanders play the Lightning was only $7.00. If you live in the New York area, go to one of these cheap NHL games this season. If you are going to one of these cheap games, take your friend, your roommate, your sister, your co-worker etc. Buy them a ticket, they will buy you a drink. Let the sweet light of hockey into their life.