Monday, April 1, 2013

Visnovsky: The bottom line in D for the Islanders

By Larry Wigge

The life of Lubomir Visnovsky is vexing. Each version of his 12-year career is a mixed bag ... sort of.

Like the trade of the Topolcany, Czechoslakia, native, last June to the New York Islanders for a second-round draft choice amid his insistence that he would never player for the Islanders.

Visnovsky, 36, first balked at reporting to the Isles, because he felt that his no-trade clause had been violated, when he was dealt by Edmonton when he was traded to Anaheim in 2010. Then, during the lockout, he was playing in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. He balked again at reporting the Islanders, citing a family crisis.

But ...

When he did return to the Islanders, there was a lot of catching to do. Did you ever walk into a room with strangers? Strangers who are trying to make you feel at home.

That's the dilemma that Visnovsky faced, when he returned early in February and several games had already been played.

"Everybody comes to me, 'Hi I'm Mark or I'm Matt,' " said Visnovsky. "I said, it will be homework tonight for me to go to internet, look at faces, focus on the names, because that's very important for the game."

You know the whole scenario of meeting new teammates.

Lo and behold, Visnovsky formally came back ... and he became fast friends with the his Islanders teammates. So much so that he actually signed a new two-year, $9.5 million contract with the Islanders.

"It's good to have him back. He's been skating and will fit right in. We had him in the power play today right away," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "He's another puck moving defenseman that can join the rush. We don't generate a lot from our blueline right now."

And Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner -- two of the aforementioned players he was introduced to -- are two of the forwards most thankful, along with John Tavares, Brad Boyes and Frans Nielsen. There was an instant offense created by a pair of puck-moving defenseman named Mark Streit and Visnovsky. 

In 23 game with the Islanders, Visnovsky contributed three goals and six assists and was a plus-one on defense. Not quite the same 18-goal explosions he had for Los Angeles in 2006-07, when he ended up with 58 points or with Anaheim in 2010-11, when he would up with 68 points.

At 5-foot-10, 188 pounds, Visnovsky is on the smallish side. Still, his skill should have made him better than a fourth-round draft choice, 118th overall, in the 2000 Entry Draft. Still, teams continue to be surprised by Visnovsky's skills -- his speed, quickness, puck skills and shot. 

A league-wide cast of characters could vouch for Visnovsky magic.

"He's more than that small guy on defense who has some skills,"  said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, who in St. Louis and Colorado would always have to include a warning to his players in the pre-game speech to keep an eye on Visnovsky. "You really have to watch for him coming in late, because he's got such great speed and power and a rocket shot."

"Maybe a lot of fans don't know how good he is, but the people who have to play against him know what skills he brings to the game," said former St. Louis Blues coach Andy Murray, who seconded in a much more effective tone -- using great defensemen as a example.

Murray had Visnovsky at Los Angeles for seven years and other times he had to coach against him. There's no better way to classify them.

"To me, you've got Nick Lidstrom and Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer," Murray continued. "But Lubie has to be among the top eight defensemen in the NHL.

"He's one of fastest skaters among defensemen in the game and he just pounds the puck. But what I liked about him most when I coached him in Los Angeles was that he came to the rink with a smile on his face every day. On the ice, he's grittier than most would think. He's really tough. He'll play through injuries."

Murray still wasn't finished. He then told me about the first time he had Visnovsky on the ice with him.

"I was told he understood English pretty well," Murray laughed. "So, I started to explain to him what we want our defensemen to do and how I thought it was really important for our 'D' to move the puck quickly out of our zone -- and keep a tight distance between them and the forwards in transition, so that they could jump in late and take advantage of scoring opportunities. He looked at me with a big smile and said, 'Hockey good, coach.' "

Visnovsky, who's played in three Olympics for Slovakia and a couple of World Cups, seems to be a perfect fit.

Oilers President Kevin Lowe said, "We feel we've made a step toward improving our overall offense. Lubomir is a world-class defensemen who has been one of the premier offensive-defensemen over the past five years."

Lubomir teamed on defense with Sheldon Souray at Edmonton. Visnovsky may remind a lot of Oilers fans of Paul Coffey the way he skates, moves the puck and shoots.

"He's a very creative player," Souray said. "With his shot, he opens things up and he sees the ice really well."

"'Vis' is so good on the one-timer," said Calgary Flames forward Mike Cammalleri, who played for another five seasons in Los Angeles with Lubomir. "With him and Souray back there, you can take away one, but you can't take both away. It's pick your poison."

Lubomir Visnovsky said, "Lots of people were thinking I'm here just to finish my contract and go home. It's not true, obviously. "I want to show everybody that I'm very happy here, that the Isles are a good team, a playoff team.

"I have a great team, great teammates and I think I can help this team."

He went on to say to GM Garth Snow, "I have to say thanks to this organization, to Snowy, he has been very good to me. When I wanted to go back home, he never said no, and that makes me feel very good to be with this team."

That goes a long way to making a player feel right at home, accordingly said Visnovsky.

No comments:

Post a Comment