Islanders General Manager Mike Milbury has a few feathers in his cap as the architect of this New York hockey club. Trading prospect Dan Lacouture for 30-goal scorer Mariusz Czerkowski is one. Acquiring Bill Muckalt, Dave Scatchard and Kevin Weekes in exchange for Felix Potvin is another. Robert Reichel for Marty McInnis was a good deal for Milbury, too. And oddly enough, Reichel factors into another one of Milbury's biggest successes.
In March of 1999, as the trade deadline approached, Milbury sent impending Restricted Free Agent (RFA) Robert Reichel to the playoff-bound Phoenix Coyotes in exchanged for an unknown 21-year old prospect, Brad Isbister. The Coyotes had relegated him to mostly third-line duty on the wing and he spent nearly half a season of rehabilitating a groin injury. Isbister did not play a single game for New York in the 1998-99 season.
But `99-`00 can officially be labeled a breakout season for the budding power forward. Setting career highs and ranking second on the team in each category Brad Isbister had 22 goals, 20 assists and 42 points, including 9 goals on the power play. This was accomplished despite missing 19 games with an ankle injury towards the end of the season.
Isbister is the total package, with speed, size, strength and toughness. He is willing to battle in the corners and difficult to knock off the puck as he speeds up the wing and powers his way in front of the net. Then, with the soft hands of a sniper, he is able to finish the play and bury the puck. There is a definite edge to Isbister's game as well. He is willing to drop the gloves if necessary and has proved to be quite capable. This feisty attitude accumulated his 100 penalty minutes last season.
Isbister is an RFA this summer, and as expected, he has rejected the Islanders initial offer of a standard 10% raise, which would earn him a paltry $385,000 next season. However, he is not eligible for arbitration. Therefore, his only options are to continue to negotiate or to hold out for more.
Training camp begins on September 7th in Lake Placid, New York, but Isbister has reported to Long Island for a voluntary pre-camp conditioning and training seminar, even though he is without a contract. He is also taking part in the Islanders 10th Annual Charity Softball Game against the Long Island Bombers, an event which raises money for "Babylon for the Homeless and Blind" (BABHAB).
This good faith showing by Isbister illustrates the type of class and dedication the Islanders franchise is trying to rebuild. On and off the ice, Isbister has proven to be a team player. Add that to his hockey skill and it is easy to see why he so quickly became a fan favorite.
The Islanders should reward players who conduct themselves in such a devoted and professional manner. It is good business for the team and the organization. More importantly, it will be good for the fans, showing them the ways of old are behind the Islanders and that hard work and dedication does pay off. If the Islanders keep Brad Isbister happy, he will keep the Islanders happy for many seasons to come.