ENFORCE THIS: Once and for all, Islanders must acquire heavyweight protection for their youngsters

In the first half of Sidney Crosby’s rookie NHL season of 2005-2006, he was treated like a pinata. On January 18, 2006, the Pittsburgh Penguins traded a draft pick to Florida for an enforcer who would protect Crosby. That deterrent was a 6-6 defenseman named Eric Cairns, the former Islander who is back with the team as a scout and development executive.


Perhaps Cairns can talk about his experience with Crosby as GM Garth Snow and his staff finalize their unrestricted free agent wish list today and tomorrow.


Crosby had Cairns and now has Eric Godard. After a rookie season in which Capitals management tinkered with AHL-caliber heavyweights, Alexander Ovechkin was grateful when Washington GM George McPhee signed Donald Brashear to be his bouncer the last three years. The Islanders have seen first-fist that whenever one of them looks cross-eyed at Ovechkin, they usually end up speaking with Brashear.


When the free agent market opens on Wednesday, the Islanders will look for “this year’s Mark Streit signing.” Good luck with that. If it was that easy, the last-place Islanders wouldn’t have inked one of the very few value deals in the NHL last summer. If it was that easy, the Islanders would have had more than two long-term, beyond-expectations acquisitions between 2000-2006: Jason Blake and Trent Hunter. In his three years on the job, Snow would have more than Streit and – stretching a bit here – sparkplug Richard Park and Doug Weight to boast about.


The Islanders will look for a bonafide top-6 forward, but will more likely end up with a top-6 forward “try.”


They won’t dabble with Mike Komisarek for $4 million (and probably more) a year because it makes no sense to reach that deep for a good stay-at-home defenseman on an uptempo team when you already have Brendan Witt and Andy Sutton under contract and filling two of six spots on D.


And of course, they’ll listen if Scott Gordon has a player he insists is a perfect fit for his system and the Islanders’ rebuild.


Snow says he doesn’t expect to be a major player in UFA. Fine. What he must do is over-pay at two positions so his team has a fighting chance every night.


The Islanders need a No. 1 goalie, or at least a No. 1-B goalie they believe can be an A.


And they need to sign a tough guy who will answer the bell when an opponent tries to ring John Tavares’s.


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