Coming into this season, Mark Streit knew that he had to come back strong after missing a year with a shoulder injury. He also had to do it with the added pressure of a “C” on his chest.
The Swiss blueliner was, for most, the logical choice to replace Doug Weight as captain; however, as the season dragged and the Islanders fell rapidly into the Atlantic Division cellar, Streit came under fire for not playing his best. There were questions about his defensive skills, how much of it was rust, and whether or not he was a good leader.
To disclose my own bias, I’ll say it right now: Mark Streit has been my favorite Islander for a while. With that said, this wasn’t his strongest season statistically. In fact, it’s his worst since becoming an Islander in every category except games played (82, one of only four Isles to complete a full season). His shot and scoring percentage were among the worst of his career, and the worst since his first season in blue and orange. His plus-minus was also the worst in his career, ever, at a -27. Although he has historically been at minus ratings throughout his career, they’ve managed to stay in the single digits. Not so this year; in fact, he was second only to Milan Jurcina in worst rating this past season. (Of course, there are more factors to plus-minus than simply individual ability, including how a player might be utilized in the lineup, his linemates/partners, etc.)
Streit still managed to score 47 points, 40 of them assists. He scored 23 points on the power-play, and although he faltered in the first half of the season, he rebounded after the All-Star break, posting a single-digit +/- and 21 points. Keeping this in mind, let’s see how he stacks up against former Isles captains.
Doug Weight: Weight only played 36 games in his first season as “C”, 2009-10, due to nagging injuries. In those games, he managed one goal, 16 assists for 17 points overall. His plus-minus was only a -1, but he unfortunately, he was unable to make a large on-ice contribution. (Coach: Scott Gordon)
Bill Guerin: Guerin, like Weight, was in the twilight of his career coming into his first season on the Island (2007-08). He was given the “C” upon signing his contract and only missed one game the entire year (playing with a dilated pupil from his eye injury, if I remember correctly). That season, he led the Isles in goals with 23 and was second in overall scoring with 44 points. However, he took 65 minutes in penalties (many of the hooking, tripping, and interference variety). His plus-minus also averaged to a -15. So, while he was durable and made decent contributions to an offensively-starved team, in other respects such as discipline, he could have done better. (Coach: Ted Nolan)
Alexei Yashin: As mentioned before, Yashin was far from an effective captain overall, though he posted decent point totals (66 in his first season as captain, 2005-06). He was also durable, playing all 82 games for the first time as an Isle. However, on a decidedly better team as far as ratings go, he still tied for second-worst plus-minus with Mark Parrish (-14). This team also had a slightly better offense and more goals forced, so that might count for something. (Coach: Steve Stirling/Brad Shaw)
Michael Peca: Even as a defensive forward, Peca put up an impressive pair of numbers in 2001-02 (25 G, 35 A). He also played 80 of 82 games and had one of the best plus-minuses on the team (+19, also the best of this group). He was also part of the strongest, best-coached Isles team any of these captains have been on, and the only playoff team. He also won the Selke Trophy for his efforts, proving his talent as well as his on-ice leadership. The same was true of him on the Buffalo Sabres, though there turned out to be a sour end there prior to his arrival on the Island. (Coach: Peter Laviolette)
Of course, while a captain should lead by example on paper, there are intangibles that count for plenty more. For example, Peca was tenacious and diligent; Weight had passion and excellent hockey sense; Yashin, when he applied himself, had finesse; Guerin was savvy and managed to rebound from a sub-par season in Dallas. Yashin and Guerin never officially captained a team before coming to the Island.
Streit, for his part, has captained the Swiss national team since 2006. He also has a cool demeanor that some may mistake for indifference, though he’s described himself as someone who “hates to lose” and puts much pressure on himself to win.
Each player also played a different role. Peca was a top two-way player. Yashin was supposed to be “the” goal scorer. Guerin was meant to be a veteran presence, but also the leading new face in a line of new faces meant to get the Isles deep into the playoffs. Weight was the playmaking center, an All-American if ever there was one. And Streit is supposed to be the PP quarterback, as well as the guy mentoring the new blood coming onto the blueline from the Isles’ farm system.
No doubt Isles management and coaching staff has seen leadership in Streit that fans may miss. Though he doesn’t show overt passion on the ice, he is said to be vocal in the locker room, and his teammates speak highly of him. If that isn’t enough, see 2010-11, where the Isles’ D became completely disorganized without Streit as the anchor, among other missing players. Also consider his defensive partners this season, a practical revolving door of players, and think about whether or not that could have kept him from hitting his stride while adjusting to a new partner every couple of weeks.
This coming season, his last as an Isle unless he’s offered and signs an extension, will be the key year for Mark Streit as an Isles captain. While his play this year can be criticized, I don’t believe this is a true indicator of the type of player he is. Wait for 2012-13 before you gauge his place in Isles leadership history.