Islanders trade for Patrik Laine likely involves deal-breaker Ryan Pulock

Ryan Pulock #6 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Ryan Pulock #6 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

To land Patrik Laine via trade the New York Islanders will likely have to give up Ryan Pulock. That’s a deal-breaker.

If you’re hoping that the New York Islanders pull Patrik Laine in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets you better be ready to lose Ryan Pulock to get the deal done. And that just can’t happen.

Pulock has been the Islanders number one blueliner for two seasons now, and he’s been excellent at it. He plays an average of 22:22 per night over the last two seasons against top-quality opponents. He’s a secondary quarterback for the Islanders power play and he plays a decent amount of minutes on the penalty kill.

The right shot Dauphin, Manitoba native (that’s three-and-a-half hours North-West of Winnipeg) is exactly what the Jets are looking for in a return for their Finnish sniper Patrik Laine.

But moving Pulock for Laine is a deal the Islanders just can’t make. Not right now at least.

Big Gap On the Right

If the Islanders move Ryan Pulock to Winnipeg they’d be left with a pretty sizeable gap on the right side of the blue line. With Pulock gone the Islanders right-side would consist of Scott Mayfield, Johnny Boychuk, and Noah Dobson.

Before getting into why neither of them is (a) fit or (b) ready to step into Pulock’s position let’s just consider how important Pulock is for the Islanders.

Pulock is first for TOI at 5on5 for defenders with 1,228 minutes in 2019-20 (Toews was second with 1,163:06). He’s now the team’s top-scoring defender. And his amount of ice time (in all situations) against top tier opponents last season is way above average compared to the rest of the league. Something neither Mayfield, Boychuk, or Dobson faced in 2019-20.

Now, can either of those three players step in for Pulock if he happened to leave? No.

Scott Mayfield is a fine defender. He’s got size, he can defend the blue line well enough, and he can play in a number of different situations. But his skill set just isn’t there to be that number one guy.

Johnny Boychuk used to be that number one guy, at least on the right side of the blue line. But those days are over now. The 36-year-old is no longer that top-pair defender. Serviceable? Absolutely. But he’s not the guy who can step up and be that top pair guy for the Islanders.

Noah Dobson is projected to become a top-pair defender, but with the cautious approach that the Islanders took last season with their prized defender what makes you think they’re ready to hand him the keys to the Islanders defense now?

It’s not impossible for the Isles to just give Dobson that number on spot for 20-21, but it would be a wild departure from what Lamoriello and Trotz have normally done. Remember, the only reason Dobson finished with 34 games last season was in large part because of the Adam Pelech injury. With Adam Pelech in the lineup, Dobson would have rarely seen the ice in 19-20.

Here’s how frequently Dobson got into the lineup before the Pelech injury, afterward, and after the Islanders picked up Greene via trade on the 16th of February:

Games before Pelech injury: 11 of 38 (29%)
Games after Pelech injury: 18 of 19 (95%)
Games after Andy Greene trade: 6 of 33 (18%) [Includes playoffs]

At a 29% appearance rate before the Pelech injury, Dobson would have seen the ice 24 times through a full 82 games season. To think they’ll put him out there on the top pair for what should be an 82 game season seems like a wild stretch.

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The Islanders thrive on defensive stability, handing the keys to Dobson is not defensive stability. Maybe next year, after Dobson has played a full season in the NHL, the Islanders might be ready to revisit this trade.

How they make that work financially in what should still be a flat cap is going to be very tricky. Laine will be owed a new deal, likely worth a few million more per year than his current $6.75 million cap hit. With RFAs Adam Pelech, Ilya Sorokin, and Anthony Beauvillier to re-sign after 20-21 the Isles will yet again have cap issues to deal with before considering Patrik Laine.

But as it stands now, trading for Laine would likely mean Ryan Pulock goes the other way and that just can’t happen. Not yet.