The New York Islanders search continues for a left-handed top-four defenseman. The Isles need a player that can play, roughly 20 minutes a night, and put up around 30-40 points over a full 82 game season on their second pair.
With Ryan Pulock, Noah Dobson, and Scott Mayfield on the right side, the Isles need is strictly on the left side. Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler stands out, so let’s look at why, and why getting him might not be that easy.
Why New York Islanders should target Cam Fowler (Pros)
So again, the Islanders need a left-handed defenseman that can play 20 minutes a night (or more), can put up points and well, you know, is in fact good at his position. Being able to move the puck isn’t necessarily a must, but would be a huge asset.
So I did what just about everyone does, I went to CapFriendly to find a list of players that fit my criteria. And I came up with 35 names. But as you can imagine not every name on that list is a viable target. Sure, they fit my criteria (20+ minutes, LHD) but that doesn’t make them a viable target.
That list included players like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Darnell Nurse, and Nick Leddy (to name a few). Neither of those players is heading to the Islanders for what should be obvious reasons. So, removing players who just signed a new deal, were recently traded, play for a “contender”, or within division left me with three names:
- Cam Fowler
- Hampus Lindholm
- Mattias Ekholm
All three of those players are good trade targets but the one I want to focus on is Cam Fowler. He checks the obvious boxes (lefty that plays 20+ minutes) but it goes beyond that.
He scores at a decent rate, he’s typically providing between 0.40 and 0.50 points per game in a season. He may not have hit the heights that Nick Leddy hit (career-high 0.57 points per game), but Fowler is more consistent.
Fowler is also a decent “puck-mover”. Fowler held 6.63 5on5-entries/60 with a 43% carry-in rate. He’s not a 1:1 replacement for Leddy, but then, there are very few players that can match Leddy’s 5on5 zone entry numbers. When it comes to where Fowler creates his offense, it’s a fairly even blend of off the rush and through forecheck/cycle game, just like Leddy.
(Data from Corey Sznajder.)
In terms of his style of play, usage, and where his team is in their cycle, Cam Fowler should easily be a top trade target for the Isles to fill their need on the blue line.
Why trading for Cam Fowler might not work (Cons)
As with anything in this era, you need to look at a player’s contract. And that’s where we find the biggest hurdle for the New York Islanders.
In 2017, Fowler signed an eight-year $52 million deal with the Ducks. If you didn’t do the math in your head, that’s a $6.5 million cap hit for the next five years. That’s a lot of money for a long time.
Bringing in that cap hit would drop the Isles from $11.9 million in space to $5.4 million. Of course, that’s not considering the Johnny Boychuk LTIR money but it’s also not considering Palmieri, Parise, Cizikas, Zajac, Sorokin, or Beauvillier. That’s not enough space.
Now, trading for a top-pair defenseman with term and a high cap hit isn’t impossible. The Vancouver Canucks just picked up Oliver Ekman-Larsson from the Arizona Coyotes. And the Coyotes even held 12% of OEL’s contract ($990,000) while bringing in $12 million from the Canucks.
So, Fowler’s contract isn’t a hard no, but it’s clearly an issue that Lou Lamoriello will have to navigate carefully.
I know, Fowler has some pretty restrictive trade protection (four team trade list), but with where the Ducks are compared to the Isles and don’t see that trade protection being a problem.
Now, I didn’t list any cons for Fowler’s game. It’s not to say he’s perfect. No player is. Ideally, he’d score more. But Fowler is really the perfect player for the Islanders to plug into their second pair. All I can think of is the trade that sent Ryan McDonagh to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
That was, and still is really, a top pair player that was brought in to play second pair minutes on a championship-caliber team. That’s what Fowler would do for the Islanders and why I think he should now be the Isles number one trade target.