Evaluating the NY Islanders' internal options to pair with Scott Mayfield next season

The Isles will have a hole to fill on the blue line this upcoming offseason.

Mar 14, 2024; Buffalo, New York, USA;  New York Islanders defenseman Sebastian Aho (25) takes a shot
Mar 14, 2024; Buffalo, New York, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Sebastian Aho (25) takes a shot / Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
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The NY Islanders have 11 games remaining in the 2023-24 season. With a 30-26-15 record, the team remains 4 points behind the Washington Capitals for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. For the Isles to make the playoffs, they would also have to jump the Detroit Red Wings who remain 3 points ahead with 78 on the season. In what seemed like a realistic possibility just 7 games ago, the Islanders have now fallen 6 points behind the Metropolitan Division's third-place Philadelphia Flyers. Suffice it to say, the 'good guys' are missing out on an integral opportunity.

Since the team seems likely to be on the outside looking in on a playoff spot come mid-April, it is time for the front office to begin evaluating next season's roster. One of the spots that will be open for competition come the offseason is the left-handed bottom defensive position. Regardless of fans' opinion of Scott Mayfield, his 7-year contract with a $3.5 million cap-hit for 2024-25 is untradable, not to mention he received a partial no-trade clause. For Mayfield to bounce back, he will need to be paired with a steady linemate, preferably someone he has experience with. Of the 3 on the Islanders' current roster who are not guaranteed to return, who makes the most sense, and who is the most realistic?

Mike Reilly makes the most sense.

The Islanders have only played one game this season with all of their projected defensemen in 2023-24: opening night against the Buffalo Sabres. Since then, Mayfield has missed time on 2 separate occasions with a lower-body injury. Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock each missed 24 games while Robert Bortuzzo was just activated from LTIR with a lower-body injury. Let's not forget Sebastian Aho missed time as well with an upper-body injury. 

As a result, Lou Lamoriello had to search for a defenseman externally to help fill the ice time missed by the team's regulars. His first move was easily his best decision since trading for Bo Horvat last season. On November 25th, the Islanders claimed 30-year-old defenseman Mike Reilly off waivers from the Florida Panthers. In 48 games played since then, Reilly has scored 5 goals and 13 assists with 46 blocked shots and 41 hits. Among all the defensemen, he only trails Noah Dobson in points at 18.

Reilly is certainly the most deserving of being a part of the 2024-25 Islanders. His unexpected offensive explosion this season has made up for the production missed by Pelech. Had it not been for Reilly, the Isles would have had to trade more draft capital to replace all of their regulars. The only drawback will be the contract he demands in free agency. Already with just $7 million in cap space per Spotrac for next season with multiple RFA's on the roster, Lamoriello will have to get creative if he wants to retain Reilly. While the 30-year-old makes the most sense production-wise, Reilly unfortunately seems to be the most unrealistic option.