Over the last 48 hours or so the New York Islanders have taken a few steps to address that gap on the blueline that was created by trading Nick Leddy to the Detroit Red Wings.
On Thursday, news broke that the Islanders were going to bring UFA defenseman Erik Gustafsson in on a PTO. And then on Saturday afternoon, the team officially announced that Zdeno Chara was coming back after a 20-year absence since that trade to the Ottawa Senators for Alexei Yashin.
Bringing in both seems to tell us how Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz plan to staff their blueline this season. And the best way to put it is: by committee.
New York Islanders defend by committee
By that I mean we don’t see very strict defensive pairs over the year. Sure, the lineup card might show a strict set of six defensemen split into three pairs but don’t expect those pairs to stay intact all year or even during Game 1. Those three pairs may resemble something like this:
You could easily argue that Dobson would be RHD2 instead of Mayfield. But the point remains, we should expect that these pairs will be quite fluid during the year. We’re also likely to see a player or two come off the scratchpad to take a game or two (maybe a few more if they play well).
Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock will certainly stay together from day 1 through till day 82. But it doesn’t mean they won’t pick up time being paired with other players on a semi-regular basis.
We saw Adam Pelech get a few rotations with Scott Mayfield and Noah Dobson in the Isles most recent playoff run. Dobson will surely be trusted with more ice-time in his third year under Barry Trotz. Specifically with Greene and Chara likely not exceeding 18 minutes a night.
And what about load management? Chara is 44 years old now and Andy Greene is 38, they aren’t what you’d call young (in NHL terms) anymore. Playing a full 82-game slate for the first time in two years might not be in the cards.
That’s where we might see guys like Erik Gustafsson (assuming he’s signed to an actual NHL contract) or Thomas Hickey or Sebastian Aho perhaps – Aho’s on a much more affordable deal than Hickey – get a few games.
Again I expect the Isles to ice a more fluid defensive core than we’ve seen in the past after these most recent signings. In another situation, this type of fluidity might be an issue but the Islanders are dealing with NHL vets or guys who have been around the Isles system for years now. It’s not as risky as it may seem.
It also means you should absolutely expect Samuel Bolduc and Robin Salo to start the year in the AHL even if they have great training camps.