The New York Islanders’ defensive struggles were mostly the result of guys underperforming, which is actually reassuring.
Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Hálak both struggled at points this season, for reasons beyond their control.
Sure, both were certainly off their games (with Hálak’s struggles resulting in a midseason demotion) for extended periods of time. But, and it’s a very alarming but, much of this stemmed from the team’s porous defense.
Which begs the following question: Was the unit’s struggles the result of inadequate personnel, or mediocre — perhaps generously speaking — campaigns from key players?
It’s probably a bit of both.
Let’s start with the personnel, which has been assembled by maligned general manager Garth Snow. While the Isles don’t have a legitimate top-flight defenseman (i.e. logs big minutes, contributes on both special teams and puts up big numbers), they do have three above-average blueliners.
Johnny Boychuk has a howitzer of a shot and provides immense leadership, while Nick Leddy is a prolific skater and passer, and Travis Hamonic, complete with an off-ice controversy and unbelievable charity work, is an aggressive youngster inked to a team-friendly deal.
Behind this triage, the Isles have a couple of other valuable contributors: Thomas Hickey, the feisty former top pick; Calvin de Haan, the low-maintenance Carp native; Dennis Seidenberg, the veteran leader; and Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield, the blooming youngsters (plus Ryan Pulock, the top prospect).
So depth certainly wasn’t an issue, even as guys like Hamonic and Boychuk missed extended periods of time with injuries. But as many have been quick to point out, this unit just didn’t have that ‘oomph’ factor that would have made it one of the league’s best.
Even so, they should have been better than one of the league’s ten worst units, says one hockey expert. “The problem is simple: too many guys aren’t producing,” the expert told me in early March.
We don’t need to use advanced stats — which surely support this claim — to prove this point. The good ol’ eye test should do the trick. While guys like Nick Leddy and Scott Mayfield enjoyed career seasons, too many others — like Hamonic and Hickey and Pelech and de Haan — didn’t.
Which should actually be a bit reassuring, because the Isles could resolve this issue internally if guys step up. But that’s a big if, because the defense was actually worse at points under interim and now permanent head coach Doug Weight than it was under former head coach Jack Capuano.
There’s a simple formula for success next season: ‘Pick your sh— up.’ If guys at every position took the next step, the Isles could be contending with the big boys.
But if not, 2017-18 could look a whole lot like 2016-17. And that, my friends, wouldn’t be a good thing.