The Islanders' Fork in the Road: Tavares or Hedman?

Craig HContributor IApril 16, 2009

I remember having a sleep over party for my 12th birthday party with some of my best friends. The plan was to stay up all night, play Sega Genesis and Nintendo, and eat junk food.

But before all of that, we all watched the David Volek and the Islanders beat the Penguins in overtime in game seven of their 1993 playoff series. It was the last time the Islanders would win a playoff series.

Since then, the Islanders have changed owners numerous times, suffered through the Milbury Era of Ruin, constant coaching changes, and failed season after failed season.  One month shy of 16 years later, the Islanders may finally have a glimmer of hope for the future.

By winning the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, the Islanders can select either Canadian forward John Tavares or Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman. Now the question is: Which should they take?

Many GMs would agree that you build a strong team from the goal out. With Dipietro signed until he is 40, it seems the next logical step would be to solidify their defense.  The Islanders, though finishing last, did have a solid defensive unit. With Mark Streit, Brendan Witt, Radek Martinek, an ever growing Bruno Gervais and Jack Hillen, their potential would seem on the rise. 

Hedman would make them one of the better defensive teams in the league.  He would be the best defenseman they would have since Kenny Jonnson, and to go back even farther, Denis Potvin. 

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He may be the next cornerstone of this franchise and probably will be the better overall pro between himself and Tavares. If teams build with defense before offense, then this is how the Islanders should go.

However, this was the first season in franchise history where they didn't have one 20 goal scorer. Guerin probably would have hit 20 if he were with the team all year, same with Okposo if healthy, but it still doesn't change the fact this team is suffering for a goal scorer. 

Back on that 1992-'93 team, the Islanders had Pierre Turgeon, a bona-fide star who scored 58 goals, along with Steve Thomas (37), Benoit Hogue (33), and Derek King (38). They also had Ray Ferraro who was injured that year, but during the playoffs had 13 goals in 18 games. Scoring was much easier back then but that shouldn't matter.

Any team that wants to win needs someone who can score. Okposo looks to be the real deal but he is not a franchise player. He won't put fans in the seats and give this team a new identity. That is something Tavares can do. He can bring hope that this once proud franchise can rise again. 

With constant threats of this team moving to Kansas City, Las Vegas, or the Sahara Desert, the Islanders need something or someone to anchor them here on Long Island. Tavares is a goal scorer and the team has not had a pure goal scorer since another favorite of mine growing up, Ziggy Palffy.

Palffy was just exciting to watch and you expected him to score at least once a game. When your team's leading scorer is a defenseman, it screams out that it's time to build up your offense.

Tavares has heard lots of criticism the last few years in juniors because he isn't the strongest skater, but when he's able to consistently find the net, honestly, who cares?  Fans go to the games to see goal scoring, not the trap and great defensive play.

When you watch the Stanley Cup playoffs, would you rather watch the New Jersey Devils who will rarely score more than three goals a game, but win, or watch a team like Detroit or Washington that is built on fast paced action and lots of goal scoring?  I'd have to believe the latter. 

Tavares may not turn out to even be the best forward in the long run in this draft (Duchene, Kane, Schenn, Parjaavi-Svensson), but for a team that needs something to look forward to, Tavares may be the answer. 

I used to think this answer was so simple: Tavares. But it's not quite so clear. My gut and heart tells me Tavares because I believe he may save this franchise (unless he becomes the next Alexander Daigle), but my brain tells me Hedman, who really has no knock on him and should be a star for years to come.

So I leave it up to you.  If you were as unlucky as I and have been, as a huge Islander fan for all these painful years, who would you hope for?  Hedman or Tavares?  And if you are a Toronto Maple Leaf fan, please don't say trade the pick to Toronto. I can only pray Garth Snow isn't that crazy.