How Detrimental of a Loss was Ross Johnston for the NY Islanders?

The Ducks claimed the former Isles' enforcer off of waivers earlier this month, which was an outcome the organization had hoped to avoid in previous seasons.

Ross Johnston has dropped the gloves with more frequency than anyone else in the Islanders' organization the last few seasons.
Ross Johnston has dropped the gloves with more frequency than anyone else in the Islanders' organization the last few seasons. / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
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On October 10, the Anaheim Ducks claimed Ross Johnston off of waivers from the NY Islanders. With three years remaining on his contract worth $1.1 million per season, the Islanders were relieved of that minor salary commitment. However, they lost a physical depth player whose willingness to drop the gloves did not go unnoticed by fans and teammates.

Many fans feel that losing Johnston on waivers represents addition by subtraction. The NHL is gradually moving away from fighting, and as that change occurs, Johnston becomes more obsolete with each season. In turn, Johnston would continue taking a spot on the roster from younger forwards like Arnaud Durandeau this season.

However, as the NHL has shown early this season, fighting still exists in the game, and losing Johnston leaves Matt Martin as the only experienced fighter on the roster. While players like Anders Lee and Scott Mayfield have dropped the gloves in the past, these two cannot reasonably be relied upon as "enforcers" in any way. Old-school hockey fans will tell you this is the surest way to put your young skill players in harm's way. After all, without a deterrent, why not take extra runs at guys like Mathew Barzal and Noah Dobson?

However, in 2022, Ohio State University professor of Human Sciences Michael Betz organized a peer-reviewed study in which he determined that not only is there zero evidence that fighting deters greater violence - but there is evidence that more fighting just leads to more violence. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence supports this idea as well. After all, if the Islanders were reliant on Johnston to protect Barzal, it would imply that those two were on the same forward line, which happened rarely, if ever.

The Islanders were hopeful that Johnston would develop into Matt Martin's replacement at LW4. However, what made Martin special was that he was more than just a fighter - Martin could play. Martin has often been out on the ice late in close games and has made a career out of being the biggest hitter in the league while simultaneously never racking up an inordinate amount of penalty minutes. Meanwhile, Johnston racked up nine goals and 24 points over 134 games with the Islanders, and his advanced stats did not impress either, as Johnston was routinely outshot and out-chanced when on the ice. With an inability to play the actual game of hockey at a high enough level, Johnston struggled when given the opportunity and was exposed with too much playing time.