4 Islanders players who shouldn’t return next season

Since the New York Islanders have underperformed this season, it’s time to jettison a few players and turn the page on what has been a trying year.

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The New York Islanders need to do something to shift their current identity, which hasn't been the best way to go for what will be three seasons. In 2021-22, they missed the playoffs, only to sneak in last season before losing in the First Round. This year, their playoff hopes are all but over unless they basically win out, and their competition loses out. 

It wasn’t for the lack of trying, as we saw head coach Lane Lambert receive his walking papers while Patrick Roy took over. But Roy has hardly made the team better, as they are just 0.500 points-wise prior to their March 28th matchup vs. the Florida Panthers since he took over with an 11-11-4 record. 

Overall, if this season has shown us anything, it’s that the Islanders can’t keep everyone around, go into next season, and keep trying to play the same way. It’s not working, and they badly need to start shifting their identity into something that involves more high-octane play.

Islanders must start cutting ties with a few players as changes are needed

While the Islanders must start changing, they are also in a bind cap-wise, and many of their pending unrestricted free agents won’t give them much cash leeway heading into the offseason. Luckily for the Isles, they are in a position where a full rebuild isn’t needed as their top players can stick around for the greater part of, if not the entire decade. 

Retooling or restructuring the lineup would be the much better method here unless general manager Lou Lamoriello wanted to move his top talents elsewhere. But if they can still produce or if they are in their respective primes, what would be the point? 

Instead, get rid of some older players and those who aren’t contributing and slowly restructure this team. Doing so could at least keep them interesting to watch while simultaneously getting younger in a process that should start this coming offseason. 

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Cal Clutterbuck has had quite a career, but it’s time to move on

It’s time for the Islanders to get younger, and that means letting their oldest players walk as unrestricted free agents. They are currently ranked second in the league with an average age of 29.04, with only the Edmonton Oilers clocking in higher, and Cal Clutterbuck factors in as one of the oldest players on the Isles who is also in the final season of his contract. 

Although Clutterbuck is 36, he can still play an effective game, but since the Islanders must restructure, get younger, and produce more in the offensive zone, it makes sense to let him go elsewhere. That said, they would need to find an adequate replacement for Clutterbuck, who is still one of the league’s best and most physical lower-liners with 241 hits in 71 contests. 

New York wouldn’t need anything too expensive or anyone who plays a different game to replace Clutterbuck. And they could even save cap space by rolling with a cheaper option than the longtime winger’s $1.75 million cap hit.

They would, however, lose a respected voice in the locker room that Clutterbuck has transformed into over the last decade. But throughout the last three seasons, it’s become clear that this team needs to cut ties with some of its longtime players if they want to break through this perpetual state of mediocrity.

Matt Martin is one whose best days are behind him

Matt Martin is another seasoned veteran who has enjoyed a storied career in the NHL, but as in the case with Clutterbuck, he’s also someone whose decline is fast approaching. He’s made a living on the lower lines throughout 15 years in the NHL and has been a fixture in this New York Islanders organization for most of those seasons. 

Also, like Clutterbuck, Martin has been one of the league’s hardest-hitting players, registering over four hits per game for a team that has routinely been one of the NHL’s most physical. But once again, getting younger and more productive offensively should be the goal this offseason, and Martin doesn’t fit the criteria.

The solution? Let Martin go in unrestricted free agency along with Clutterbuck. The hard-nosed, physical play has not helped New York for the most part over the past three seasons, so while it would be bittersweet, at best, to see players like Martin and Clutterbuck go, it’s also the best move for the organization’s future.

Finding more consistent scorers, even on the lower lines, should be the goal this offseason, or at least kickstarting the process. Martin and Clutterbuck leaving, or at least that should be the case, and going elsewhere won’t help the Islanders much in terms of cap space, but they also need a starting point to restructure. 

There is no way Robert Bortuzzo should stick around

Robert Bortuzzo is nothing more than a placeholder, and despite his long NHL career, he’s only appeared in 70-plus games just twice in a single season since he arrived on the scene in 2011-12. We’re looking at a defenseman this time, but someone who has spent their entire career on the third-pairing and whose game - albeit on the blue line - mirrors that of Clutterbuck’s and Martin’s. 

Bortuzzo is also 35 and in the final year of a deal he originally signed with the St. Louis Blues. He has just a six-figure salary, so also, like Clutterbuck and Martin, the Isles aren’t gaining much cap space with Bortuzzo walking, but it’s all about refueling this lineup with younger and more exciting talent, be it at forward or on the blue line. 

At this time, there are three players in the defensive rotation slated to be unrestricted free agents, with Sebastian Aho and Mike Rielly factoring in as the other two. None have a high salary, but of the trio, Aho is the likeliest one to stick around and provide a solid presence on the bottom-pairing if he re-signs. 

Aho isn’t as physical, but he’s younger, he produces more, he can contribute on the man advantage, and while short-handed. Meanwhile, Rielly has done a fine job as well, and he too could have played himself into a role on Long Island next season. 

Hudson Fasching was a serviceable stopgap on Long Island

Hudson Fasching is another forward on the lower lines who has been serviceable, but as with the other three players on the list, the time has come to find someone who boasts more scoring potential. In 40 games this season, Fasching four goals and 11 points, 26 blocks, 39 hits, and a solid 17 takeaways, showing us his defensive game remains his strength as far as basic stats go. 

But he provides no special teams value, and at 5-on-5, his numbers have tanked across the board. His Corsi For is down from 51.8 to 44.9; the Isles have a scoring percentage of just 7.2 when he’s on the ice - with just 13 goals compared to the 33 they had with him out there last season. 

Further, the Islanders have allowed 21 goals at 5-on-5 with Fasching, just one fewer than the 22 they allowed last season when the winger played in 49 contests. At even strength, those metrics haven’t looked any better, and they are even worse when you factor in just a 90.5 on-ice save percentage. 

Serviceable is the best way you can describe Fasching’s play, but it was by no means warranting a new contract. New York’s best bet is to find yet another lower liner more capable of adding some offense and playing more consistently defensively. Fasching will not be an unrestricted free agent like the others, so in this case, the Isles would need to trade him. 

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(Statistics provided by Hockey-Reference)

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