As the hockey season draws near, there are many questions that will face the 2017-18 version of the New York Islanders. After missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign, the expectations are still high for the Isles. With an entirely new coaching staff and new blood ready to make an impact, this season could be something special, or the final chapter before major changes is made. Over the next 30 days, our Rob Taub will give his thoughts on what to look for from the blue and orange this season.
One thing has been associated with Thomas Hickey during his tenure as an Islander: clutch goals.
Ever since Hickey was claimed off waivers right before the start of the — lockout shortened — 2012-13 season, he’s been known to have a flare for the dramatic, earning him the nickname, “Mr. Clutch”. The other thing Hickey has been known for is playing above his size against some of the best the NHL has to offer. The Calgary, AB native has never let his size discourage him from being able to offer solid defensive play and offensive output when he gets the opportunity.
Hickey’s last two seasons have proved that notion true. After coming off his best season for New York in 2015-16, despite missing 20 games, Hickey’s 2016-17 campaign was a sound one.
Only missing six games all season, Thomas piled up 20 points, including 16 assists, playing mostly top four d-pair minutes, usually either with Johnny Boychuk or Calvin de Haan. Hickey strong play resulted from him willing to sacrifice his body — blocking over 100 shots — for the third time in four seasons. He became so dependable that then interim head coach Doug Weight even used him as a forward for the last few remaining games of last season when the team was still fighting for a playoff spot.
Hickey will be heading in to his sixth season as an Islander, but apart from the past several years, his spot along the teams’ blue line was not assured this past summer.
Garth Snow left Hickey unprotected in the expansion draft in June, and many writers and those around the team assumed he would be the player that the club would eventually lose. The reason why he was a former captain of the 2009 World Junior squad for Canada, and the Golden Knights could have been looking for veteran leadership right out the box. Fortunately for Thomas, instead the Isles lost backup goalie J.F. Berube to Vegas, which meant he was still a part of the team.
But there are still a few hurdles Hickey will have to surpass to secure his spot as a regular for a third straight season or he could be the odd man out.
It might not be one of the noticeable things about the situation Hickey will deal with in 2017-18, but everyone should remember that Hickey is going in to the last season of his three-year, $6.6 million contract. The Islanders locked up Adam Pelech for four years over the summer, while Scott Mayfield agreed to a two-year, one way contract. Add in Ryan Pulock going in to the last season of his rookie contract, and Hickey has three young, capable blue-liners ready to take his spot, and secure it on the team in the near future.
The size factor has never been a problem for Hickey (as referred to in the beginning of this piece), but looking back at multiple occasions where he was exploited last season, it’s fair to say that this season and going forward, he will take a step down on the teams’ depth chart. Pulock, Pelech, and Mayfield, all have a distant size advantage over Hickey, as well as their ability to create offense. Management and coaching staff will want to get every possible look they can at all three, to see which of them will be a part of the team going forward, so that leaves Hickey in a bind that he might have a hard time getting himself out of.
Could Hickey see his amount of games played decreased so that the youth movement really begins to take course? It’s a realistic possibility. But for those who follow the team should also take in to account is Hickey is still one of those vets in that locker room that shows a great amount of leadership. And the fact of the matter is, that if Pulock, Pelech, or Mayfield struggle, Hickey can jump right back in to the fray and be depended on by Doug Weight and the coaching staff. Heck, Hickey could even jump up and play forward again, but that’s another story for another day.
There are reasons to believe that Thomas Hickey place on the blue-line and on the team this year is up for grabs, but nothing is certain. All the elements surrounding Hickey and the changes that are ahead for the Islanders defense as a whole, he will have to leave nothing for chance.