Thomas Hickey
Robby Sabo, ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The curious case of New York Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey continues to rage on while confusing fans all across the great land of Long Island.

To gaze at the statistics page of this New York Islanders season, one can be quite amazed by certain aspects, especially when it comes to the statistic of plus-minus. With a team hovering in the bottom third of the league in points and specifically dead last in goals against, you would expect the defensive players would all be holding a significant negative rating.

Surprisingly, Thomas Hickey does not fit into the above scenario.

The former fourth overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings, Hickey, who just played in his 400th NHL game last week, is leading the entire team at a plus 15 rating. He is one of only five Islanders who are north of zero entering the game tomorrow night against the Philadelphia Flyers.

His career, with the lofty expectations, did not start out in the manner that one would want to see a First-Round pick begin. After a few injuries with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL, the affiliate of the Kings at the time, his ineffective play has soured on the management in Los Angeles, who exposed him to waivers. The Islanders came in and claimed him off waivers in early 2013, and to this date, has not returned to the AHL.

Many experts believed that Hickey was too small and slow to be an everyday NHL defenseman, but the six-foot, 188-pound left-handed shot from Calgary, Alberta, was eager to show the critics that he could do the job.

“There was a time when I’d go to bed at night, and say I just want one game, to say that I played, just to prove I can do something”, Hickey told reporters after a recent contest. “It was frustrating at times, but once I got over that, I just tried to re-invent myself, and start from scratch.”

Hickey has spent a great deal of his time in New York with many defensive partners. One of which, Calvin de Haan, was one that he paired with a for the most of his 400 games until a shoulder injury sidelined him for the remainder of this season. de Haan, along with Hickey, are the two highest plus-minus players on the team.

Hickey’s play on the backline is not one of flash, but one of solid positioning. He will not be the most physical, but can lay a hit down when needed, especially one using his hip—much like the great Denis Potvin would use throughout his career.

His offensive numbers are not staggering, but can come up with big goals when called upon; with examples of his first goal, an overtime winner at the Bell Centre in Montreal and in 2016, when he scored the overtime goal in Washington that put the Islanders in the playoffs. Coach Doug Weight last season even used Hickey in a forward role for a few games and pleasantly surprised a few people with his simple, but solid play.

In a season of instability on the defensive end that at times was brutal to watch, the Islander management has a difficult decision to make in the upcoming weeks. Hickey is at the end of his three-year $6.6 million deal and could be an unrestricted free agent come the first of July.

Garth Snow, or whoever is in that role if the general manager has been replaced, must seriously look at the availability of defensive help for next season. Nick Leddy, at a -45, has been nothing but disappointing and has $5.5 million in cap until the 2021-2022 season. Johnny Boychuk is injury-prone, getting slower and has a $6 million cap hit for the next four years. de Haan, the other plus defenseman, is also at the end of his contract in July.

With Ryan Pulock all but locked into an extended deal based on his solid season and both Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech locked up, Hickey brings up quite a dilemma to this club.

You are not going to get a Viktor Hedman, a Brent Burns or even an Erik Karlsson; but to this club, you know what you are getting with Hickey. With number 14 on the backline, you get a simple, honest defenseman who will not cost that much while providing the younger defensemen with a potential quiet leader that can help his team improve.

It is a curious dilemma—one that many New York Islanders fans will be interested to see what will happen come July 1.

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