Shortly after addressing their need at forward by signing Brad Boyes, the Islanders bolstered their blue line, landing hard-hitting defenseman Matt Carkner on a three-year contract.
The 6’4, 237-pound blueliner has played 162 games in the NHL, all but one with Ottawa, racking up 361 penalty minutes in his five-year career. Carkner knows what the Islanders will ask of him once he puts on the blue and orange.
“On the ice, I’m a solid defensive player,” Carkner said. “I make a quick first pass. Obviously, I can make the team a little tougher too. I think on the back end, this team needed a guy who can step in and provide some grit and some physical toughness. I’m there to help protect the players out on the ice as well.”
A second-round (58th overall) pick of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1999 NHL Draft, Carkner played eight seasons in the American Hockey League with the Cleveland Barons, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Binghamton Senators before landing a full-time NHL gig with Ottawa in 2009-10. Carkner believes that the long road he took to make it in the NHL defines him as a player.
“I’ve always taken pride in my work ethic,” Carkner said. “That’s obviously what’s gotten me to the point I’m at now. I’ve been working hard ever since I’ve been in the league to try and improve and do what I’m capable of.”
During the 2009-10 season, the Winchester, ON native played 81 games for Ottawa, scoring two goals and nine assists, and adding 190 penalty minutes. The last two seasons, however, Carkner played 50 and 29 games, respectively, watching his playing time diminish toward the end of last season. As a free agent, Carkner looked at the vacancies on the Islanders blue line and saw an opportunity to make a big impact again.
“That’s a big factor,” Carkner said. “I was seeing my ice time kind of diminish in Ottawa, with a different coach coming in and a different style of play. I was coming off an injury as well. It just took me a while to get back to where I was, and that’s just kind of how it fell into place. I was happy to see what my options were and I think that I will fit in real well in New York with the Islanders. I am pretty excited to get a spot here.”
Islanders Senior Advisor to the General Manager and Assistant Coach Doug Weight believes that Carkner’s signing addresses a need for the organization to add some size and toughness to the blue line.
“Obviously, the first thing you think of is his toughness,” Weight said. “It’s certainly something we had to address as a team. We think there’s a big upside for Matt and not just in the toughness category. He’s hard to play against, has a solid defensive game and can win battles in the corner. He’s a good quality person and I think he can bring a lot to our defensive corps and a lot to our team. He can play the game, be a good PK guy and make us harder to play against.”
Fans following the signings around the league on TV or on Twitter on Sunday may have been surprised to hear about Carkner signing the deal with the Islanders because of a peculiar mistake. Less than two hours earlier, the Colorado Avalanche announced via Twitter that they had signed the 31-year-old defenseman and media ran with the story.
“I had a few people working with my agent,” Carkner said. “We had quite a few phone calls. I don’t know if somebody made the assumption that we were doing a deal with Colorado, but as soon as we saw it on the ticker, we got a hold of them and said we’re still negotiating. I got a ton of text messages from friends saying congratulations, and I had to text them all back, telling them that nothing had been done.”
Carkner thought the Avalanche situation was merely a misunderstanding.
“I just hope that the people in Colorado aren’t too upset with what happened,” Carkner said. “It was obviously some kind of mistake. It was pretty weird, but I’m happy it all worked out.”
Through the chaos that was day one of the free agent signing period, Carkner is thrilled to join the Islanders.
“Today was a pretty crazy day and I’m really happy with where I ended up,” Carkner said. “This is a good group of young guys with a lot of skill and we’re looking forward to some success down the road here.”