Every week of the 2018-19 season, our Rob Taub will discuss one player from the Islanders to look out for. Whether it’s past performances, certain matchups, or something about that player that makes worth spotlighting, each article will describe why they are being featured. Also — if one or two players, or the team is coming off a good week — there will be multiple spotlights.
With the run the New York Islanders have been on the past month and their unexpected season so far, one thing seems to be forgotten — they’re getting excellent contributions from their veteran players.
Two of those veterans that maybe haven’t gotten enough credit, Leo Komarov and Cal Clutterbuck.
Komarov and Clutterbuck, both 31, after last season looked as if they’ve finally found themselves on the downturn. Komarov, who was playing under Islanders g.m. Lou Lamoriello in Toronto, played in a respectable 74 games, but only found the point sheet 19 times. That measly number was the worst total of Komarov’s career other than his rookie season with the Leafs in 2014-15 where he only tallied 26 points. Something that also became apparent with Komarov — with the Leafs continuing that full-team transition to a younger, speedier squad — was that the game had almost passed him by.
In Clutterbuck’s case, the last two seasons had been a struggle due to inconsistency and injuries. The Welland, ON native did appear in 76 games last season, but he only produced eight goals and 18 points. The years before that, Clutterbuck only scored five goals in 66 games played. Both those years were a far cry from 2015-16 when Clutterbuck seemed to have the clutch gene the entire year notching 15 goals — the second most of his career.
So heading into this season, of course there were question marks surrounding both wingers.
Lamoriello signed Komarov to a four-year, $12 million dollar deal on July 1. Many were skeptical of the acquisition because Komarov wasn’t the same player from when he first came into the league and because of the term of contract. Hint: Just about everyone is still not in favor of it. Clutterbuck was facing another dilemma. The whispers of him being able to stay healthy for a full season once again and him trying to justify the contract (five years at $.3.5 million per) gifted to him by former g.m. Garth Snow all were up in the air.
But Lamoriello must have not heard the critics.
“Having had him in Toronto, I know that Leo brings the kind of character and ability that we’re trying to build here,” the Isles g.m. told MSG’s Stan Fischler back in July. “And he brings it every night; never leaving it out on the ice. You’ll like his leadership.”
In his five-year stint in Toronto, it was pointed out that Komarov was one of the most respected players in the room. He was also one of the mentors for the Leafs core now — Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Nazem Kadri. Lamoriello saw this first hand and knew that Komarov was the kind of presence he needed if he was going to shake up the culture that had been absent from the Isles for far too long. Barry Trotz saw it as well. Trotz made the slick decision to have Komarov seated right next to the Islanders reigning Calder winner Mat Barzal in the locker room. He pulled the same act when the enigmatic Josh Ho-Sang got the call to the big club in December. Komarov also played with Ho-Sang in his stint because Trotz knew that Ho-Sang could learn on the fly from the veteran Komarov.
Clutterbuck didn’t need the reassurance from Komarov like Barzal and Ho-Sang, but he did get something else that seem to bring him back to normalcy: Matt Martin. Lamoriello traded for Martin from his old club on the second day of free agency. The deal was done to reignite the “Best Fourth Line In Hockey”, the trio of Clutterbuck, Martin, and Casey Cizikas. The trio — before Martin signed with Toronto after the 2015-16 season — was a force for the Isles for a two and a half year period.
Looking at how Clutterbuck and Komarov has re-discovered their mojo this year, it’s easy to see why Lamoriello and Trotz see them as key guys.
They might not be lighting up the score sheet, but both players have excelled in their roles. Komarov’s penalty killing ability has been a welcomed sight after the Islanders were the worst ranked penalty kill in the league a year ago. His chemistry with fellow signee, Valtteri Filppula, has provided a unique edge for the club’s bottom six. And for the times he has contributed offensively — many would consider it a bonus, 16 points in 48 games — they’ve been in big spots. Uncle Leo, as some have referred to him this season, hard-working nature and important role on this team has started to win over the natives despite the ludicrous contract. He’s a good hockey player — something that could be argued as missing from the Isles roster the past few seasons.
Stay REALLY hot, Cal! 🔥
— IslesBlog (@IslesBlog) January 20, 2019