The NY Islanders' fourth line, composed of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck, has stuck together longer than any other group on the team. The "Identity Line" earned its name by being the Islanders' most physical, matching up against opponents' top lines - and for a while, was considered among the best fourth lines in hockey. They remain one of the most physical lines in the NHL, but with the Islanders' need for scoring, speed, and skill around the lineup, along with their age, their time together may be nearing its expiration date.
The Isles signed three depth forwards on July 5th; Julien Gauthier, Karson Kuhlman, and Brian Pinho. All three contracts hold cap hits below $800,000, with Kuhlman and Pinho on two-way deals. Kuhlman has more experience of the two, and his role in the NHL up until this point has been mainly as a checking forward, so it's hard to assume he'd be anything more than that with New York assuming a fully healthy lineup. His career high in games played came in 2022-23 with 47.
"I'm pretty sure I'll be the first to know when the time for being effective has passed me. I'll be well aware of that before [the media]."- Cal Clutterbuck in May 2023
That's a big assumption, though, especially along the right side. Clutterbuck is frequently injured and only played 49 games this past season, appearing in just 59 in 2021-22. Luckily for the Isles, they found a gem of a replacement in Hudson Fasching, who earned a two-year extension this offseason and is expected to play in the bottom six regularly. Gauthier is also a right winger and is coming off a 14-point season, split between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators - but given his potential with his speed and energy, there's a possibility he works his way into the lineup as well. Gauthier signed a two-year deal to come to his previous team's rival, so having a spot on gameday was likely influential to him when signing his contract.
Cizikas is likely a mainstay in the lineup for the foreseeable future. His contract carries an AAV of $2.5 million for the next four seasons as a center who brings a lot to the table with his penalty-killing ability and energy. Martin, who recently turned 34, has one season remaining on his contract, which could lead him into retirement if he chooses, but comes off a career-best 19-point season. Clutterbuck also has one season left on his deal and turns 36 in November. The entire line scored three goals and five points in the Islanders' most recent playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes, all of which came in crucial moments.
After signing his extension in 2021, Cizikas said he was going to "die an Islander" - and it's hard to believe Martin and Clutterbuck don't feel the same way, given their loyalty to the club. At some point, Lou Lamoriello and Lane Lambert will have to break up the fan-favorite line, no matter how hard that conversation may be. It's just a matter of when, not if, and the question is if that time is now with new depth insurance coming in or if they give the Identity Line one more ride as they age another year together.