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Numbers Game: Canadiens Take Wisniewski from Isles

Scott Cullen
12/28/2010 5:41:07 PM
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The Montreal Canadiens added a quality top-four defenceman from the New York Islanders at no cost to their current roster.

Numbers Game looks at the deal for James Wisniewski.

The Canadiens Get: D James Wisniewski.

Wisniewski, 26, has been bouncing around the league a little bit, and I've praised both the Ducks and Islanders for acquiring him at a relatively bargain cost because he has a variety of skills that make him appealing.

A right-handed shooting defenceman, Wisniewski can be a factor on the power play, as he's shown this year when given the chance with the Islanders, scoring 13 of his 21 points with the man advantage.

In addition to his puck skills, Wisniewski plays with an edge; in fact, sometimes he goes over the edge, as he did last season when he received a suspension for charging Blackhawks defenceman Brent Seabrook

While his penalty minute totals have been held in check in recent years, Wisniewski did accrue 103 penalty minutes in 68 games in 2007-2008.

When he stays in the lineup, Wisniewski gets involved physically, as he led all Isles blueliners with 52 hits in 32 games this season, so he adds a combative element that is needed on the Montreal blueline.

He can handle the puck, plays tough and has played 23-24 minutes per game over the last season-and-a-half, what's not to like?

Well, Wisniewski has been overmatched in his top-pair responsibilities with the Islanders and the result has been an ugly minus-18 rating through 32 games. His aggression can get the best of him at times, so better decision-making would improve his overall game, but sometimes it's a matter of putting a player in a position to succeed.
 
Since Wisniewski was plus-19 through 254 career games entering the 2010-2011 season, it seems reasonable to expect that he can be least an average plus-minus performer now that he's going to a better team with a top-flight goaltender and playoff aspirations.

With Andrei Markov sidelined for the rest of the season, the Canadiens need a defenceman capable of handling big minutes, including time on the power play and while the initial hope may have been that P.K. Subban would fill that role, Subban's recent struggles (minus-7 in seven games this month) could have him bumped further down the depth chart.

At the very least, Wisniewski's presence allows the Canadiens not to rush 21-year-old Subban and 22-year-old Yannick Weber, both of whom are talented, but have yet to show the consistency required to play major minutes night-in and night-out.

Wisniewski's cap hit this season is $3.25-million, but he will be an unrestricted free agent at season's end (like three other Montreal defencemen - Markov, Hal Gill and Roman Hamrlik).

The Islanders Get: A compensatory second-round pick in 2011 and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2012.

The pick the Islanders will receive is one that Montreal was due to get as a result of not signing 2006 first-round pick David Fischer.

A pick that falls into the second round has about a 25-30% chance of playing at least 100 NHL games and odds are about 10-15% for a fifth-round pick, so it's certainly possible that the Islanders could net an NHLer out of this deal, but it's more likely that they don't.

This is the game that is played over and over again when rebuilding teams deal proven talent for picks or prospects.

There has been some immediate speculation that the Islanders, hanging around the salary floor, felt comfortable making this trade because they are preparing to add veteran LW Brian Rolston on re-entry waivers, but that move can be evaluated should it actually come to pass.

As Wisniewski takes his 4:56 of power play time per game out the door, look for Islanders defencemen Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic to get additional opportunities with the man advantage. Jack Hillen also had some success in a puck-moving role last season, so his responsibility could increase too.

Every time Wisniewski has been dealt, I've come down in favour of the side that is acquiring him and it's no different in this case. In the most simple terms, the Islanders aren't as good with Wisniewski gone and the Canadiens are better.

The cost of the draft picks isn't particularly punitive, so the Canadiens should be lauded for strengthening their defensive core, making them tougher to play against.

For the Islanders, well, they can hope that some other players respond to increased opportunities, but there is the risk that losing their top-minute defenceman is going to take some time to overcome and may have a negative impact on a power play that is already 27th in the league.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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