The New York Islanders apparent answer to remedy the NHL’s worst defense in the last 10 years seems to already exist in the organization.The New York Islanders knew (heading into the 2018 offseason) they needed to address the overall defense and the recent contracts doled out indicate a transition year for a developing blueline.
Starting with Thomas Hickey’s contract extension at the beginning of free agency and most recently with Ryan Pulock’s new deal, it seems that Lou Lamoriello’s response to the league’s worst goals-allowed numbers may just come from inside the organization.
As of right now, the Islanders will ice the same group of defenders from last season minus Calvin de Haan, the newest member of the Carolina Hurricanes.
At the start of the 2017-18 season, the Islanders were well-aware of the open roster spot which existed after sending Travis Hamonic to the Calgary Flames. The hope was that one of their rookies would be able to progress enough and take it full-time.
Obviously, things didn’t go according to plan.
This season, it seems the same tactic may be tried again. However, this time around, the circumstances have changed.
No more is the offensively favored system of Doug Weight and the (mostly) rookie coaching staff in place, but rather the defensively-minded Barry Trotz is now on the Island to restore order to a blueline in shambles and he brought some new, experienced assistants to help out.
While there’s still plenty of time for things to change on the roster — specifically in the last two weeks of the offseason — the recent slew of contracts for defenders point to another year of change for a blueline in need of a new identity.
A(nother) Year of Transition
The long-standing top-pair for the Islanders is likely no more. Boychuk is coming off of a season hampered by a persisting injury which required surgery this past April, and though he intends to be fully healthy by the start of camp, he is 34 years old and coming off of surgery so his top-line days are likely over.
Last season’s defense may have been a mess, but individual talents made themselves known.
The aforementioned Pulock scored 23 points in his final 35 games, Adam Pelech showed flashes of promise to be a consistent shutdown defenseman and was fourth on the roster in plus/minus (plus-seven), and Sebastian Aho was a nice surprise as a late-season call-up for the Islanders.
Things start to get cluttered when considering the newly re-signed Devon Toews, who would have been the first defender to get the call last season had it not been for season-ending surgery. Also, remember that both Pelech and Scott Mayfield are inked to four and five-year deals with a cap-hit of $1.6 and $1.45 million respectively.
If Lamoriello’s tenure thus far has shown anything, it’s that he, as well as the rest of his staff, are going to consider all of their options and ice whoever gives the team the best chance of winning going forward.
So all signs point to yet another defensive contest this season, but in a system led by and decided on by Trotz, he is the deciding factor in who stays and who goes.
Complimenting the interesting new additions up front are an equally interesting crowd of defensemen clamoring for a roster spot.
As the Islanders continue to reinvent their identity in the post-pajama boy era, things are going to be changing fast and often.
Let the games begin.