The 2010-2011 New York Islanders didn't have as strong a season as they wanted to, but can take pride in the fact that a handful of them made significant strides. It's time to recognize those who have (as well as those who have not) accomplished such feats.
MVP Award: Frans Nielsen
There wasn't one Islander that played a more complete game than Nielsen, and he always seemed to be the remedy for every situation the team would find themselves in. Whether it be on the penalty kill, power play, even-strength or a shootout, Frans knew what to do and how to do it. Nothing fazes this kid, which is why he's going to be a Selke Trophy winner someday. He's one of the top defensive-forwards in the National Hockey League because he never backs down when challenged. Frans Nielsen is your Isles MVP for 2011.
Most Improved Player: P.A. Parenteau
For a guy who nearly went undrafted, spent the last several seasons riding buses in the AHL and has struggled to establish himself as an everyday NHLer, putting up 53 points isn't too shabby. In fact, there are many regulars throughout the league that would settle for that many. Parenteau came to the Isles, virtually out of obscurity, and played his way onto next year's roster. He's earned every penny in that contract extension.
Biggest Surprise: Michael Grabner
Not that we didn't know he had talent, but Grabner's path to the big leagues hasn't exactly been the one most-commonly traveled. He was cut out of training camp by the offensively-anemic Florida Panthers, only to be snapped up from the waiver wire by Islanders' GM Garth Snow. I'm not certain the team knew they had just bagged themselves a 30-plus goal scorer, but that's what Grabner became this season, earning him this award. Should the NHL fail to recognize him as the Calder Trophy winner he deserves to be, Michael can at least take comfort in the fact that he's won himself an NYI FACEOFF CIRCLE award.
Biggest Disappointment: Josh Bailey
It's an absolute shame that Bailey hasn't been able to find his game at the NHL-level. This should have been the year in which we'd celebrate his arrival. Instead, the 2010-2011 season will likely be remembered as the one which saw Josh Bailey get sent down to Bridgeport (AHL), the one where nothing went right for this kid. If there's any Islander that perhaps took a step back in his development, it's Bailey.
Top Rookie: Tie: Michael Grabner, Travis Hamonic
I don't need to say anything else about Grabner, other than what I already have. That being said, the reason he's not a shoe-in for this award is because defenseman Travis Hamonic, arguably, had just as much of an impact on this team, stepping in and logging a ton of minutes at the ripe age of 20. He ended up with 26 points in 62 games for the Isles this season.
Best Forward: John Tavares
Is this a mere statement of the obvious? Perhaps, but I think it's also a testament to his work ethic and potential. He was able to top his scoring totals from last season, notching 67 points and doing so without Mark Streit in the lineup. Why is that important? Think back to Tavares' rookie campaign and the amount of points he racked up on the power play. Yet, despite the Swiss blueliner being sidelined and the team being abysmal with the man-advantage, he still managed to produce.
Best Defenseman: Andrew MacDonald
Handing the award to A-Mac wasn't easy, especially because Travis Hamonic gave him a run for his money. Nonetheless, he was the team's best rearguard, the most reliable point-man the Islanders had. He demonstrated adeptness at both ends of the rink and even earned himself an "A" on his uniform, as a reward for leading by example.
Best Goaltender: Al Montoya
The Big Cubano did a remarkable job in goal for the Isles, who traded for the supposed draft bust out of sheer desperation, thanks to their string of goaltender injuries and a certain Russian netminder who's earned himself a Voldemort-esque reputation on Long Island (Evgeni Nabakov). Montoya will be back next season, as the Isles gave the Illinois native a one-year contract extension for his strong play.
Mr. Consistency: Matt Moulson
There were many that questioned his ability to score 30 goals for a second consecutive season, but, make no mistake, Moulson has put his critics to sleep. He was an offensive threat almost every single night, aside from being among a mere handful of players that appeared in all 82 contests this year. He received a longer-term contract extension, and rightfully so.
Mr. Inconsistency: Blake Comeau
Of everyone on this team, Comeau may very well have been the most frustrating to watch this season. At times, he looked like the second-coming of Ziggy Palffy, but there were times when his play could have been likened to Tony Hrkac. Don't know who Hrkac is? That's my point exactly. He did end up with 20 goals, but it's clear he's got the talent to surpass that mark.
M.I.A. Award: Tie: Trent Hunter, Doug Weight, Mike Motteau (Honorable Mention: Too many names to list)
The Islanders were far and away, the NHL leader in man-games lost this season. We only saw these guys in the lineup for a couple of weeks, before they'd end up on the sidelines. In fact, Trent Hunter was on the Nassau Coliseum JumboTron to talk about Optimum WiFi more than he was on the ice. Weight's now pondering retirement, while Motteau may or may not be back with the Isles next season.
Back to Square One Award: Rick DiPietro
It's too painful to discuss this at length, so I'm just going to be blunt. If DP has any aspirations of becoming the goaltender he once was/could have been, he's got A LOT of work to do in the offseason.
Troublemaker Award: Tie: Zenon Konopka, Trevor Gillies
In just 39 games, Gillies managed to get 165 penalty minutes, two lengthy suspensions and a lot of notoriety around the hockey world. Meanwhile, Konopka led the entire NHL with 307 PIM in 82 games played for the Islanders.
Goodie Two Shoes Award: Tie: Michael Grabner, Matt Moulson
If Gillies and Konopka were the Joker and the Riddler, Grabner and Moulson were Batman and Robin. In other words: The "good guys." Combined, the two had just 34 penalty minutes all season long, staying out of the box and contributing on the scoreboard, as opposed to mixing it up.
King of the Locker Room Award: Zenon Konopka
This award goes to the player that best-demonstrated leadership ability throughout the year. Konopka was, undoubtedly, that player. He was easily the most outspoken member of the team, never afraid to speak his mind and never hesitant to defend a teammate. Additionally, his compete level, night in and night out, was off-the-charts. Speaking of contract extensions, "Zeke" deserves one. He also needs a big "C" on his Islander jersey next year, as in "Captain."
(This article can also be viewed on NYI FACEOFF CIRCLE)
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