The 6’4” 230 pound unrestricted free agent winger has bounced around a little since being a third round choice of the Winnipeg Jets in the 1995 National Hockey League entry draft. But along with stability in his personal life, Isbister’s hoping he’s also found some stability in his professional career, too, and is looking forward to settling in on Canada’s West Coast.
“There were a few other teams and I know we were talking to the Rangers (with whom he finished 2006-07) prior to July 1st. But the Canucks called pretty early and I was very excited. And when they offered a contract I was very happy to get that done as soon as possible,” he says of his short stay on the free agent market. “I love the city, I love what the team looks like and all the positive aspects of the situation.”
Isbister who has 100 career goals in 486 career NHL games knows a thing or two about joining new organizations having spent time with Phoenix, the Islanders, Edmonton, Boston, Carolina and most recently the Rangers. Each of those teams saw in Isbister the same things the Canucks see – a big body who has had some success at the NHL level, but a guy who has always battled consistency in his game.
His best years came on Long Island when he registered 22, 18 and 17-goal seasons from 1999 through 2002. Since then however, it seems each year has seen Isbister on the move unable to put down roots wherever he’s landed. But through it all, he’s persevered and tried to prove to teams that he can still be effective at the NHL level. And Isbister thought that in the 19 games he played for the Rangers late last season, he was as good as he’s been in a while.
"It would have been nice to have some numbers to support that, but I thought I played well and was getting chances and even got a chance to play on the #1 line with (Jaromir) Jagr and (Michael) Nylander. It would have been nice to put up bigger numbers because that's what everyone looks at, but I take positives out of that that I earned the opportunity to play with those guys and gained a little confidence in my game a little bit,” he says. “My all-around game is better. I got an opportunity to play in situations that I hadn't had a ton of chances doing like penalty killing and being out there in the last minute of a few games. I've done it in the past, but not regularly. Tom Renney, as a coach there (in New York), gave me a nice opportunity to play different roles and show that I can be relied on in certain situations.”
Isbister, who now lives in Calgary in the off-season, knows a little about the make-up of the Canucks from the parts of two seasons he spent facing them on a regular basis while with the Oilers (2002-04). But he knows much has changed since then and admits that while playing on the East Coast and in the minors since the lockout, he hasn’t seen a whole lot of the ‘new’ Canucks.
“I know they have a lot of depth up front and on ‘D’ as well and all great teams start with goaltending and with Luongo I think we have one of, if not, the best in the league,” he says. So the forwards, the defense and the goalies -- everything is deep and strong. It’s nothing but positives, I think.”
Isbister’s hoping the Canucks coaching staff and management feels the same way about him when he steps on the ice at training camp in September. He was given no promises about ice time or roles with the hockey club during negotiations. But that’s nothing new for the right-handed veteran who can play either wing, but prefers the left side.
“I don't know what role they see me in. From what I've heard about the coach, he's a pretty straight forward guy and if you're playing well, no matter who you are, if you're deserving of more ice time, you're going to get that,” Isbister says. “And that's a great opportunity as a player. You come in and play well and if I do what I think I can do, I'm going to get the chance to move up the lines.”
One thing Isbister knows because he’s heard it throughout his hockey career is that he has to be willing to use his size. He’s bigger than most when he steps on the ice, but the knock on him has often been a reluctance to use that size effectively and to his advantage. Isbister says his years in the league have made him a smarter hockey player and he’s pledging to come to Vancouver and not just be a big body, but to play a big man’s game.
“That's what I have to do to be successful. When I'm playing my best and my game, it's using my size and speed. To do that, you have to use your speed to get in the corner and then use your size to bump the d-man off the puck or just creating space for your linemates,” he says. “That's something that I need to do and expect to do -- and will do.”
If that’s the case, Brad Isbister may have found a perfect match for the second time this summer -- first with his wife and now with the Vancouver Canucks.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org