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by Jason Lockhart / New York Islanders

The battle for blueline spots heats up

Bryan Berard
When it was announced that Bryan Berard would be joining the Islanders for Training Camp on a tryout, the blueline situation on Long Island became a little more interesting.

The Islanders already sported a defensive core that included Brendan Witt, Andy Sutton, Radek Martinek, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Freddy Meyer, Chris Campoli, Bruno Gervais and Aaron Johnson, who played in 60 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season.

Of those eight, only Gervais and Johnson have two-way NHL-AHL contracts, meaning those two can be sent down to Bridgeport without clearing waivers. The same cannot be said for the remaining six, who would undoubtedly be picked up by another team if sent down to Bridgeport. The addition of Berard has made it an even more difficult decision for Garth Snow, Ted Nolan and the coaching staff.

Looking at the situation more closely, Witt, Sutton, Martinek and Bergeron are virtual locks to be on the team, leaving five players to fight for – potentially – three spots. Despite Nolan's inclination – based on last year – to not carry extra players, he indicated today that "it's safe to say that we'll dress seven to begin with, but once the season progresses, we'll see. One good thing about Bridgeport being so close is that they players can keep their game sharp there, instead of practicing with us for two weeks and not playing."

Chris Campoli
Johnson has been given a long look, having already played in two exhibition games, but there may be too many players ahead of him on the depth chart to crack the Islanders lineup to begin the season. However, considering Ted has liked what he has seen from him, he could see time with the Islanders before season's end.

That could leave Campoli, Meyer, Gervais and Berard for the final three spots, and this is where it gets very interesting. Meyer (26), Campoli (23) and Gervais (23 – when the season begins) are all very young, compared to Berard, who is a veteran at age 30.

"Berard played okay in his first game," said the head coach. "As the games move on, we'll see how he fits in. Campoli, Gervais and Meyer are all playing well, and so is the Johnson kid. To say who is going to get those six and seven spots, now, is tough. Once the dust all clears at the end of preseason, hopefully we'll have the best seven defensemen available."

The age difference could be a serious factor, considering the new CBA, which encourages development from within.

Freddy Meyer
As indicated by Ted, Meyer, Campoli and Gervais have had good camps. Meyer and Campoli have each scored goals and been effective in their own zones, while Gervais picked up his game in his second exhibition contest, in Moncton. At times, it seemed like Gervais was trying a little too hard against Montreal, but as Trots said earlier in camp, the coaching staff is looking for guys who are trying to make a difference. Gervais was certainly doing that.

Berard will be given a fair opportunity to prove he can be a contributor before Training Camp is over. It was no accident that Berard was chosen first overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2005. With the Islanders looking for a set-up man for Bergeron on the left point, Berard could be the perfect fit for that position.

The only scenario that would keep all players on the Islanders – assuming Berard is signed – is to send Gervais to Bridgeport. However, time spent in the AHL is meant for development to reach the next level. Gervais has already proven he can be an effective NHLer and another stint in the AHL wouldn't do him much good.

All four players are NHL caliber defensemen, and could help the Islanders win games. That is why the Islanders brass is still grappling with this tough – albeit good - situation. By no means have any decisions been made. There are still six preseason games remaining, but time is winding down.

"We really wanted to instill at the start of Training Camp that spots won't just be given away," said Nolan. "It's the best league in the world and one of the most competitive businesses, so they need to be earned. Things have a funny way of working themselves out."

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