3. The Defense: Replacing Boychuk and Toews
This offseason saw many NHL teams victimized by the salary cap. The Islanders were not exempt from that group. They have yet to sign their most-talented forward in Mathew Barzal, and they traded RFA defenseman Devon Toews in October, both due to being squeezed by their cap situation.
Now, the Toews trade turned out to be quite polarizing among Islanders fans. I realize Toews wasn’t perfect, but anytime you have to trade a puck-moving, possession-driving, 26-year-old RFA defenseman because your cap situation simply won’t allow for you to sign him, it’s not a great look for your GM.
The other outgoing defenseman from the 2019-20 Islanders squad is Johnny Boychuk. Who, sadly, had to retire due to the eye injury he suffered shortly before the NHL shut the season down in March.
Another bit of news Lou gave us on New Year’s Eve was that of Andy Greene‘s signing. As he has been for so many years, Greene was steady when he joined the Islanders. He plays a simple game and is your prototypical no-frills defenseman who can be hard to notice on most nights because of the nature of his game.
That said, Greene is now 38-years-old, and in a condensed schedule should probably be looked at as a player to rotate in and out of the lineup, rather than to operate as an every-night fixture in it.
So who could platoon on the left side of the bottom defense pairing? Thomas Hickey is one option. The NHL vet kinda lost his job to Toews back in 2018-19. He spent all of 2019-20 with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, albeit he only played 14 games due to injury.
Because it would seem the right-side assignment is young Noah Dobson‘s job to lose, I’d say it’s likely that Hickey gets into the Islanders lineup in some capacity this season. It seems likely that Trotz would like to pair the younger Dobson with a steady veteran like Hickey or Greene. However, Hickey is not the only option.
Sebastian Aho is another potential option for that left side assignment. The 24-year-old Swede played 49 games in AHL Bridgeport in 2019-20 and registered 30 points to finish second on the team in that category. He hasn’t been able to crack the Islanders lineup since 2017-18, but after an AHL all-star selection, perhaps he could make the cut if invited to training camp.
These are three storylines that I look forward to having answered once training camp opens. I’m sure there are some interesting ones I missed too, so let us hear them in the comments section and on Twitter.