When Garth Snow signed Zenon Konopka to a contract on July 2nd 2010 it seemed to be just to make the Islanders tougher as he led the NHL in penalty minutes the previous season.
What the Islanders actually got was something entirely more than just a guy to drop the gloves.
The guy speaks his mind.
Ask Zenon what he thinks of something an event, a questionable hit, someones comment and you wont get the rubber stamp answer you come to expect from professional athletes.
What you will get is his opinion. His honest and uncensored opinion.
This fact is so refreshing especially to Islanders fans who have waited for a game like last Friday's home romp of the Penguins for literally years.
Personally I have felt the Islanders needed to make such a statement going all the way back to the 2002 playoffs when a vicious hit by then Leafs forward Gary Roberts concussed Islanders defenseman Kenny Jonsson, and Leafs former enforcer Darcy Tucker submarined Islanders captain and backbone Micheal Peca basically destroying his knee.
Both hits went un punished by the NHL.
Roberts got a minor penalty after taking count them SEVEN strides and blasting Jonsson square between the numbers and driving him into the boards.
Tucker, who is known for such dirty plays, went un penalized for basically ending Michael Peca's career as a top 6 forward.
The Jonsson hit is here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-Z6T3x770U
The Peca Hit is here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qv3W09KDnAM&feature=related
I always laugh when I hear Toronto announcers commentary.
Islander fans felt then and feel now that the reason Roberts and Tucker went unpunished by the NHL was because the NHL was firmly behind the Maple Leafs and wanted the Leafs to advance in the playoffs.
The Islanders got some retribution in Game 6, when former Islanders defenseman Eric Cairns pummeled former Leafs forward Shayne Corson which resulted in Corson actually trying to kick Cairns with his skate blade.
Let us not forget who Darcy Tucker chose to drop the gloves with. You guessed it!
Islander super heavyweight Shawn Bates. Yes that is sarcasm.
That altercation is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRPU7Z9fdDM
- A side note, tell me after watching this clip that you don't think hockey can be relevant on Long Island.
The NHL took notice of the Corson infraction and suspended him for one whole game.
Remember how many games Chris Simon got for skate blading Jarko Ruutu?
Now I am not defending Chris Simon. Not at all. He deserved everything he got in his discipline.
The problem is Tucker, Roberts and Corson did not.
The Leafs ultimately won the series in 7 games against a depleted Islanders team playing without their team captain and one of the top 3 defenseman on the team at the time.
These events were the beginning of what Islanders fans view as the league looking at the Islanders as inferior to their larger market brethren and looking the other way when players took liberties with Islanders players.
2002 was also the apex of where the Islanders would reach in their Renaissance of that period as they have not won a playoff game since, losing both series they have been in as the 8th seed in very short order.
Granted the Islanders have not done much since then and they haven't had that much star power to protect.
Enter John Tavares.
Tavares is the piece that the Islanders needed to build around, and now with the emergence of Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson have some young quality forwards to start another run at success.
For the first time in a long time, Islander fans can see a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to on ice success.
Teams have taken liberties with John Tavares and other Islanders this season and it all came to a head when Blake Comeau got concussed on a borderline hit by Maxim Talbot and Brent Johnson broke Rick DiPietro's face.
Lets not forget about perennial Lady Byng trophy Candidate Matt Cooke, who some call the dirtiest player in hockey going out of his way not to avoid Rick DiPietro which is what set off the brawl that resulted in Rick getting his face broken by Brent Johnson.
Do not forget that Matt Cooke and Rick have a past. In one game back in Pittsburgh this season, Cooke was given three separate minor penalties for either running over Rick and pushing PA Parenteau into him.
Someone, and the Islanders will never admit this, came forward and said enough is enough.
Someone spoke up in the Islanders locker room and said we have to take a stand and show the NHL that we are not going to sit back and allow our young future stars to be taken advantage of.
The Penguins were the perfect opponent to do it against.
The Penguins with the NHL's marquee superstar and marquee superstar owner have become the darlings of the NHL.
Who better to make a point against?
It was just icing on the cake that Brent Johnson got the start in net, and was lit up like a christmas tree by the young Islanders.
If I was a betting man I would bet that Zenon Konopka was the one that said look guys we can continue to take whatever the NHL's darling franchises do to us, or we can make a statement that cheap shots and questionable hits against our players will result in consequences.
The Islanders settled almost every piece of open business against the Penguins and you can bet that if Matt Cooke was not suspended for a dirty hit on Fedor Tyutin on February 9th.
It was a wild statement of frustration that had Islanders fans rallying behind their team again that said "we are as mad as hell, and were not going to take it anymore!"
Zenon Konopka has proven to not only be a guy that can drop gloves. He is excellent on face-offs, he is a sound defensive forward.
More than that he brings an X-Factor that you simply cannot teach. He has taken pride in wearing that NY Islander jersey. He, along with others has instilled an attitude in that locker room of we have to stand up for each other.
He will speak out for the team and tell you exactly what the fans think.
Zenon has spoken out against the comments made by Mario Lemieux, someone whom I greatly respect as a player and an owner as does Konopka himself.
If this is what Zenon is saying to reporters, you can bet he has done his best to say it to Islanders players.
Have pride. Play hard. Stick up for one another.
Konopka is a guy the Islander fans can rally around. An everyman who does the dirty work and lets you know when he has a problem with something.
Garth Snow, get this guy signed to a long term contract and don't let the Islanders lose what they so dearly need - A player that instills in others the need to have pride with that Islander crest on the front of their jersey.
Not only that, but also for other teams to respect it and this was a great place to start.
Please post your comments below.