Lou Lamoriello and the New York Islanders have a few options to solidify the defense, but it’s unclear what the plan is right now.
With the New York Islanders gearing up for the 2018-19 season, and with a clear void on defense, “I would guess they’re trying to make a move or two,” writes Arthur Staple of The Athletic.
Chris Botta of Islanders Point Blank agrees, arguing, “One would think Lamoriello — whose first camp with the Toronto Maple Leafs hosted a whopping 73 players — might reach out to one or two to gauge their interest in donning the blue and orange.”
The Islanders currently have an abundance of depth blueliners — players who at the very best are a cheap insurance policy. Who does that policy cover, though?
This summer, Lou Lamoriello handed Ryan Pulock a two-year bridge deal before he becomes a restricted free agent. This locks up the stud defenseman for the next two seasons, while the Islanders’ new brass will evaluate his game.
In addition, Lamoriello locked up Thomas Hickey on the opening day of free agency to a four-year, $10 million deal, all but guaranteeing the 29-year-old a spot on the roster. Hickey is an able puck mover, but with the offseason loss of Calvin de Haan, who signed with the Carolina Hurricanes, he will likely have to play in an imperfect role.
Such is the new reality for the Islanders, who are lacking in top-four defensemen but have a surplus of bottom-pair pieces. Will Lamoriello make a move, or will he stay still?
There are two key reasons to believe it will be the latter. First, in this nonexistent trade market, landing a big fish is easier said than done. But second, and perhaps more importantly, the Islanders want to see who they have before throwing money at players on other teams.
With a clear void on defense, Lamoriello hopes to see some of his young guys — Scott Mayfield, Devon Toews, Adam Pelech — rise to the occasion. The Isles currently have a half-dozen defensemen signed for three or more years, so an internal fix is even more valuable than an external one.
However, if the Islanders do look to the outside for defensive help, Botta suggests a couple of players for consideration. These include current free agent defensemen such as Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, Dan Hamhuis and Toby Enstrom.
Staple, in a recent Q&A, said that he once thought that Carolina Hurricanes co-captain Justin Faulk was a potential trade target, but isn’t so sure now. “I would have figured the Isles to be in on Justin Faulk,” Staple wrote, “but perhaps they will stick with what they have and rely on Ryan Pulock to round out the top-four.”
Staple doesn’t believe the Islanders are in on Jacob Trouba either. Trouba just went to arbitration with the Winnipeg Jets and signed a one-year deal worth $5.5 million as a result. Instead, it seems as if their focus has shifted to the current roster.
The Islanders will be counting on Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy to bounce back from a year ago, but will also be transitioning into Barry Trotz’s system and a grittier, more aggressive style of defense.
“We’re going to be a grittier team next year, I think,” Boychuk tells Staple. “More sandpaper, more hard-working. I think that’s a reason for everybody to be excited.”
The Islanders are hoping that this change in system and style will compensate for their lack of defensive flair.