Whether the goaltending or defense is to blame for the lackluster play of the New York Islanders, one thing is certain: the defense needs help.
That the New York Islanders defense needs help has been evident since Opening Night. Maybe it was clear before that—perhaps when the team traded Travis Hamonic to Calgary before the 2017-18 season even began.
No matter what defensive category you want to use—take goals against per game, shots against per game and penalty kill percentage, for example—the Islanders are either last or among the bottom three in the NHL. What’s frustrating is that they have the league’s second-best offense scoring 3.36 goals per game, second only to Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Islanders have tried to build from within and in the case of the forwards, it has worked fairly well. The play of first-round draft picks Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier has helped the Isles with some depth scoring. When it comes to the defense, the term “mediocre play” is generous. Ever since the Hamonic trade, young defensemen like Scott Mayfield or Adam Pelech have failed to take the next step and fill the void on defense.
Now, more than halfway through the season, there is still no sign of hope coming from the young defensemen. If the Isles wish to make the playoffs, they need to make defensive improvements—and fast.
Niklas Hjalmarsson – Arizona Coyotes
Only 30 years old, Hjalmarsson has accomplished a lot as a defenseman. He has been a part of three Stanley Cup-winning teams with the Chicago Blackhawks and represented Sweden in the World Juniors Championships, the Olympics and the World Cup of Hockey.
The Swede was traded to the Coyotes on draft day in 2017 and has assumed a leadership role in the organization. That being said, if a price has been set for star Oliver Ekman-Larsson, then a price can be set for Hjalmarsson. Ekman-Larsson’s asking price is high, to say the least, as reported by SNY writer, Andy Graziano.
Prices starting to be set, and they're astronomical. Reports are the Coyotes want two high-end roster players and a 1st rounder for Ekman-Larsson and Sabres setting price super high on Kane (NHL player, prospect, 1st rounder, conditional). #NHL
— Andy Graziano (@AndyGraz_SNY) January 18, 2018
He brings defensive confidence, sound play and leadership to the table, three things the Isles are completely lacking on defense right now. With Calvin de Haan, Nikolai Kulemin and Johnny Boychuk out with injuries, that’s three penalty killers gone for an extended amount of time. Hjalmarsson can provide relief while also being a mentor for the younger defensemen and taking on a leadership role in Brooklyn.
A trade might look something like this:
- Arizona Gets: NYI 2018 second-round pick, CAL 2018 second-round pick OR CAL 2018 first-round pick and Pelech or Mayfield
- Isles Get: Hjalmarsson
With this trade, the Islanders have to assume that the Coyotes will be trying to acquire building blocks such as draft picks or younger players. Thus the reason why the specified picks and players would go to Arizona. They’re no Hjalmarsson, but they can fill certain roles while the Coyotes build. In the event Arizona wants a younger defenseman, the Isles have a handful to offer. No defensive prospect is untouchable since none of them are bound to be top-flight.
Erik Gudbranson – Vancouver Canucks
Although someone with more of an offensive game like Detroit’s Mike Green would be nice, the Islanders are lacking physical presence in the top-four defense role. Green does not provide that. Gudbranson however, adds that element at a relatively cheap price. He would be a rental unless de Haan walks and the Isles choose to re-sign Gudbranson instead. He currently holds a $3.5 million cap hit.
The Canucks are another team that is still searching for their identity behind rookie standout Brock Boeser. Draft picks are something Vancouver could use and the Isles could provide that. Hamonic was that physical defenseman, and Mayfield has shown flashes of being that. However, Gudbranson is that defenseman consistently, game after game.
Whether he would be a rental or not is tricky. he wants a raise, that would put him in the $5 million range. At that point, he and de Haan have similar interests financially, and it may be worth it to stick with the familiar name. In a perfect world, locking both up would be ideal for a sound defense, even if it is just for one season. Long-term deals are unlikely however, due to the fact that Barzal and Jordan Eberle are due for raises at the end of the 2019 season. And of course, in June, there’s John Tavares.
What a deal could look like:
- Vancouver Gets: CAL second-round pick and D Parker Wotherspoon
- Isles Get: Gudbranson
Patrick Johnston of the Province reported earlier this month that the Canucks have already been offered defensive prospect Andrew Nielsen and a draft pick from the Maple Leafs for Gudbranson. Assuming that is the asking price, a high pick is thrown in with a defensive prospect of the Islanders in Wotherspoon. The 20-year-old is six-foot, 190 pounds and plays a two-way game. If the Isles feel Wotherspoon isn’t going to be part of the future plans, it might be worth it to move him early.
Alex Petrovic – Florida Panthers
In this scenario, less is more for the Islanders and general manager Garth Snow. Florida is one of those teams that has made the playoffs and seemed ready to make noise but took a step back in the years since. Petrovic has been one of their steadiest defenseman and is actually over-preforming in his role. Per Own The Puck, it’s easy to see his role in the advanced statistics world. On this site, all categories are sorted into columns of 10.
Petrovic is currently playing in a third defender role and that is evident through his average time on ice. The second defender (second line) role is categorized by six in the time on ice column. The 26-year-old only plays four in the time on ice category. In the websites terms, that is closer to a third line defenseman.
Interestingly enough, he outplays the expectations of a second line defenseman, despite his minimal minutes per game. One of the most important categories for a defense first defenseman like Petrovic, is shot suppression, the category furthest on the right. The Isles are letting 30 or more shots get to the goaltenders too often. The more shots they see, the greater the chance the opponent has of scoring.
He outperforms the other categories in the chart as well. His shot generation is better than expected for a defense first player. It means that when he is on the ice, his team is generating shots and offensive opportunities.
In short, Petrovic is a good buy. Better yet, he’s one of the youngest on the market. The once second round pick is on a one-year, $1.85 million deal that would lead him to restricted free agency. Therefore, for the Islanders to avoid offer sheets and compensations in the summer, they should do all they can to acquire him at the deadline in March.
How this trade can work:
- Florida Gets: CAL 2018 second-round pick and NYI 2018 fourth-round pick OR NYI 2019 third-round pick.
- Isles Get: Petrovic
Just like the other teams on this list, the Panthers are trying to find their identity. They have some assets they can sell and in the 2018 season alone, Petrovic was a healthy scratch for eight straight games. He needs a change of scenery and the Islanders need defensive help. Giving Florida two picks for the defenseman can also make it so the trade benefits both parties.
The Petrovic trade, as well as the others, utilizes one if not more of the picks Snow got in the Hamonic trade. If he doesn’t use those, Snow will have officially lost that trade. He has to use those in every way possible in an attempt to save the season. If he doesn’t, failure to move the picks and missing the playoffs for the second year in a row could cost him his job.