Michael Grabner didn't know his countryman Thomas Vanek before trade
Arthur StapleArthur Staple
Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school
Michael Grabner hoped to recruit Thomas Vanek, his countryman, to stick around with the Islanders. That didn't happen according to plan, obviously, with Vanek almost certain to be dealt before the March 5 trade deadline.
The funny part about the recruiting narrative? Grabner and Vanek barely knew one another before the Oct. 27 trade that brought Vanek to the Islanders. The two most celebrated Austrian-born NHL players are only three years apart, but neither spent much time playing organized hockey in his native country as a youth.
"By the time I was a teenager, he was already gone [from Austria]," Grabner said. "And then I left, and we were both playing over here at different levels. It's been great to have him here for as long as it lasted, to really become friends after all this time."
It was especially good for Grabner in the run-up to the current Olympic tournament, with both players' first time representing Austria on the horizon. Grabner had a hat trick in Thursday's opener for the Austrians, an 8-4 loss to Finland. Despite being two of only three current NHLers on Austria's roster, Grabner and Vanek are on different lines as both play left wing.
Grabner's name had been tossed around the rumor mill as part of a Vanek deal, but sources told Newsday that Grabner's name has not come up in trade talks. With two more seasons and a salary of $9 million (with a $3-million cap hit) remaining, Grabner's value seems to be higher with the Islanders than in a trade.
There's also the fact that Grabner has only nine goals in 56 games and had a 31-game goal drought, despite still using his speed to generate a requisite two or three scoring chances a night.
"Things haven't gone so great here," Grabner said the night before he and Vanek left for Sochi. "We're going to enjoy our first Olympics and when we get back, it's back to business. We'll just take it day by day and I'll enjoy whatever time I have to be teammates with him."
Slovak GM never got in touch with Snow
One of the odder aspects of the Lubomir Visnovsky situation over the past few weeks is that Slovak general manager Otto Sykora -- who made public statements in Russia initially hopeful that Visnovsky would play for his country in Sochi, then said it was Visnovsky's choice not to go -- never contacted Islanders GM Garth Snow to clear up any confusion over the player's status.
Visnovsky returned from a 46-game absence (concussion) and played the last six games for the Islanders before the break, but was not medically cleared by the Islanders to play for Slovakia in Sochi. With another season left on his contract and the Islanders already having seen what Visnovsky's absence did to their defense, anything less than 100-percent health was a non-starter for Snow and the Islanders.
Visnovsky, who has played in four Olympics for Slovakia, was reportedly livid that Sykora put the responsibility on the 37-year-old defenseman's shoulders for not going to play. Certainly, the 7-1 rout Team USA hung on Slovakia in the Olympic opener didn't make things easier for anyone.
Strome lights up AHL All-Star Game
Ryan Strome picked up where he left off in the AHL after being sent down Jan. 15, culminating in a two-goal performance in a 7-2 win for the AHL All-Stars over Farjestads of the Swedish League on Wednesday.
Strome was sent down Jan. 15, ostensibly so that he could be eligible to play for Bridgeport during the current break. The Islanders went 4-7-1 after Strome was sent down and were 9-4-2 with the 20-year-old in the lineup prior to that. Since he went back to the Sound Tigers, Strome has two goals and eight assists in nine games.
He'll likely be back with the Islanders before their Feb. 27 game against the Leafs that kicks off the post-break schedule. With Frans Nielsen (broken hand) sidelined and Thomas Vanek on the trading block, the Islanders will need Strome to fill a bigger role than he did during his first stay.