As Chris Botta of Islanders Point Blank recently reported, the Islanders are expected to re-sign Trevor Gillies and Micheal Haley, but not Zenon Konopka.
I have attempted to understand just what Isles' management is thinking, and though I believe I do have a clearer perspective on this recent development, it's still a head-scratcher.
Honestly, I never thought Gillies would be back after what happened this season, because at the end of the day, the attention and reputation he was bringing to the Islanders, albeit undeservingly, was not of the positive variety.
Ultimately, I felt that Garth Snow, Jack Capuano and co. would decide that, even though he may be a fan favorite and a team player, he just isn't worth the headache, and, should history repeat itself in 2011-12, Gillies could become an immense distraction for a budding playoff contender.
Not for one second did I ever consider that the Isles might feel that way about Zenon Konopka, because unlike Gillies, Konopka was more than an enforcer.
He was the heart, soul and voice of this Islander team in 2010-2011. He set a phenomenal example for the younger players, giving 200 percent every night and playing hard, blue-collar hockey on each shift. He was also excellent on the draws, winning 620 of the 1,075 faceoffs he took this season, good for fourth best in the NHL.
His attitude was infectious, and as the season wore on, Konopka's teammates began to embrace it.
Zenon had the confidence to say whatever was on his mind, at any given moment. He refused to allow anyone to disrespect his teammates, whether it was the media, opposing players or the League.
In a recent article from ESPN The Magazine, Konopka said that his actions are "all in the interest of helping our team win...you need to send the message: Remember last game, when you hit John Tavares? You're not going to get away with it."
Now someone tell me that the Islanders are better off without a player who has that kind of mentality. I double-dare you.
For me, the biggest reason why this stings is that Zenon Konopka loved being an Islander. Loved it.
It's not everyday that you find a player (not brought up from within the organization), who truly wants to be here, who's strongly committed to the Blue and Orange.
Trevor Gillies is a fan favorite too, but even though he has that similar sense of attachment to this franchise, the two players could not be more different.
Gillies played 39 games for the Isles this season (even had he not been suspended for those 19 games, he still would have played only 58 games). Konopka dressed for all 82. Gillies was purely an enforcer. Konopka was an enforcer, leader, faceoff magician and confidence booster.
As was mentioned before, both are fan favorites, but if you watched the Islanders' warmups before any home game, you would see how Zenon connects with the fans. He would always take his water bottle and start squirting the fans in the lower seats; he just had a special bond with the Coliseum faithful.
I'm not saying that Gillies hasn't done his part to develop that type of relationship with the fans, because he definitely has. All I'm saying is, Zenon Konopka was unique in a way that's difficult to explain, but that separated himself from the rest of the pack in this regard.
There's either something else going on that we aren't aware of, something that would put management at odds with Konopka, or the Isles have some sort of trick up their sleeve.
Given that the salary cap is expected to rise, New York will have to spend money, in order to be above the cap floor. Perhaps they feel they'd rather give that roster spot to a guy like John Madden, who would be an excellent addition to this team, because he's a leader, does all the little things and has Stanley Cup experience.
It's also entirely possible that Garth Snow, who has always maintained his philosophy that older players shouldn't take playing time away from the younger ones, is giving Casey Cizikas an opportunity to make this team and fill that fourth-line plugger role.
Could the Islanders trade Konopka's negotiating rights at the draft? Not likely, given that they were unsuccessful in doing so at the trade deadline this season. It's just hard to imagine another team that's willing to give something up now.
Any way you want to slice it, I still believe that the New York Islanders are making a big mistake here. Zenon Konopka would have been an important piece to the puzzle next season, a guy that really could have made a difference for this young team.
Is he replaceable? From a hockey standpoint, yes. From a personality standpoint, not so easily.
I'll be pulling for Konopka, wherever he does end up (even if that's the KHL). He's a class act and has certainly earned my respect, as well as the respect of many others here in Islander Country.
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