Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Weight Question

It is not polite to ask someone about their weight, but it is so bloggone normal to use 93 cheap puns on a player's name to help the season go by.

So: can we expect the Isles' last free agent addition to pull his own Weight?

I tackled this issue a bit in the old space when the Isles were rumored to be looking at him. But at that point I was more focused on my fear that they would overpay the man and create unreasonable expectations he'd never live up to. At $1.75 mil (potentially $4 mil+ with bonuses), that fear now appears unfounded -- although only time will tell us what those bonuses are and how easily they can be met. (If you've seen them or know where to look, do let me know.)

The Gift of Gab
This time I want to go into a little more detail on what the Isles bought, and how we can expect him to perform. Anyone who saw him at the recent Open House or caught his candid interviews on ITV can catch the vibe that he is a solid character. From what it's like to move the family again, to how Wayne Gretzky told him what his new number should be (some guy on a long-term deal has his traditional #39), to how it felt to be buried by management last season, he'll tell you how it is in a frank but respectful way -- or as captain Bill Guerin jabbed: "Get ready for some long-winded answers." Isles fans can expect him after games to speak honestly about the team's performance this season.

In fact, the one area where he seems to not speak openly is when a team's management is in the process of shafting him. Both in St. Louis and Anaheim last year, he took it on the chin and didn't raise a team-distracting fuss when management was using him and speaking to him in a way far below what he was told when acquired.

But will Weight's presence on the Islanders' roster help them win more games than they would have won without him?

As usual, there are multiple ways to look at the matter. The easy way is to say he's old and done. The measured way is to figure out what he's done recently and project what he could add to the team in a non-worst-cast scenario.

Old Man near the Sea

Let's start with the ugly part:

Weight hasn't nabbed 60 pts. since 2003-04. He hasn't netted 20 goals since 2000-01 with Edmonton (25 G, 91 P). He's 37 and will turn 38 at mid-season. Last year he went from 16 minutes per game (with poor wingers) in St. Louis to 12 minutes per game (and no wingers) in Anaheim, who acquired him only because the numbers worked to fit Scott Niedermayer back into their cap. His game has always been built on speed and passing, but the former has receded since his heyday. To top off this leaflet for the "he's old and washed up" crowd, Weight has had fairly significant abdominal, hip and shoulder injuries since 2002. Speed, most cheetahs have found, is no friend of hip and abdominal pains.

Reason for Hope: Powerplay and Guts
But the reason the abdominal/hip injuries affected him for so long is also one of the reasons we can hope he brings something useful to the Islanders: Weight played through the sprained pelvis that ultimately necessitated abdominal surgery. As a team leader (he was the Blues' $9 million center), he seemed to do everything he could to get back into the lineup and remain there, demonstrating the classic hockey "play through the hangnail" ethos that is so foreign to MLB. Blues followers never heard him complain, but there were always whispers well into the next season about how painful the injury was, and how the recovery was prolonged by his continued play.

He assured Isles fans at the Open House that, despite thoughts of retirement last season, he is fit and ready to go. He obviously has some incentives, including proving that he's not done as well as getting to -- and beyond -- the 31 points he needs to reach 1,000 for his career.

He also said that about a year-and-a-half ago -- coincidentally, when Bill Guerin was a Blue -- Weight was playing some of the best hockey of his career, resurrecting a nearly lost Blues season after the mid-season hiring of Andy Murray as coach. I'd say his best was actually in the 2003 playoffs, when he manned the point on the powerplay after Al MacInnis was injured and -- with 5G, 8A in seven games -- almost carried the Blues past the Canucks despite half the team being felled by the flu.

That series was Weight at his best: rallying the troops through adversity and asserting himself on the powerplay. If it ever repeats on the NHL Network's "Classic Series" program again, DVR it and you'll see what I mean. Whether he can replicate some of that six years later is naturally a question of age and health. But my guess is that he'll do it and whet our appetite some nights, while age (i.e. the weakened ability to recover quickly) will stymie him and frustrate us on other nights.

To that point, Weight's powerplay numbers have in fact gone down in recent years. But there are two factors beyond age that may be affecting that: He was on some horrendous powerplay clubs in St. Louis after MacInnis retired and Chris Pronger was dumped. And last year in particular, his powerplay minutes were not spent with, erm, "ideal" teammates, as the team tried to revolve its number one unit around Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk.

Lasting Impact is 'In the Room'
So where are we going with this subjective thesis? Essentially, despite a fresh start I don't expect Weight to surpass his recent numbers. (Shock!) A mere repeat of 2006-07's 16-43-59 would be glorious, even if it cost us bonuses that took us up near that $4 mil. That said, with faith and opportunity from management like he hasn't had in recent years, and with finishers like Guerin and perhaps Kyle Okposo, and puckmovers like Marc Streit and Mike Comrie, there should be ample opportunity for him to rack up points while improving last season's woeful PP unit.

Then there's that other area, the fabled intangibles. As I mentioned, Weight is widely perceived as a stand-up guy in the room. Even if that character has zero effect on this season's final standings, it should still have an important, mentoring effect on the youngsters in this club's all-important youth movement. You know, the ones who will be leading the Isles and talking of past mentors when we recall Weight as one of those veterans from the "transition years."

So one more slanted factoid that may reflect his effect in the room: Last season, the Weighted Blues were 16-11-2 and in the playoff race before trading him for the younger, contract-controlled Andy MacDonald (MacDonald was signed through this year, and the Blues understandably worried about how they'd attract another center on the market). But after the trade, there was a noticeably sour shift to the tone coming out of the Blues' room, and the team went 17-25-11 the rest of the way to finish ... one spot behind the 26th-place Islanders.

1 comment:

Adam said...

Dom,

I am definitely in the camp that Weight could match his 06-07 totals. He is now on team that wants to use him in all the right ways. We have a PP that should be fast and may have some goal scoring touch. Plus he will be back to playing with his best friend, always a bonus when coming to a new team.

Since the bonuses are already including in the cap numbers for this year, let's hope blows them all away.