By now you know the NY Islanders had an uneventful off-season after it appeared major improvements were going to be made. Lou Lamoriello believes depth is the key to success which this season for the Islanders. However, taking a closer look at each position, the Islander blue line has the least amount of depth in terms of NHL-ready defenseman. That's placing a lot of faith in their core blue liners who must stay healthy for the Isles to return to the postseason.
The core of the defense who carries the heavy mail for the Isles are Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Noah Dobson, and Scott Mayfield. While no one has seen newly acquired Alexander Romanov in an Islander jersey yet, many feel he will be a strong addition to the squad and is presumed to be part of the core, too. After that, the Isles will be relying on inexperienced NHL defensemen in Robin Salo, Sebastian Aho, and maybe even Dennis Cholowski.
Islanders'Heading into 2022-23, the Islanders defense appears to be improved, however, one injury can surely derail things making the health on the blue line that much more important
There is no question that the Islanders have a lot of depth within their forward group which has been part of the reason they were mostly successful in the Barry Trotz era. While they are lacking superstars at the forward position, they do go 14 players deep with Kieffer Bellows and Ross Johnston currently occupying the extra spots heading into training camp.
But when it comes to their defenseman, while the Islanders have a really good unit they can ill afford a long-term injury to one of their key guys. Specifically Pulock, Pelech, Dobson, Romanov, and Mayfield.
Pulock and Pelech have been the Islanders' top pair for the last few seasons tasked with shutting down their opponents' best players. The expectation is that Pulock will be an improved player from last season after missing 26 games to injury and not quite rebounding the way he and the Islanders had hoped. If an extended absence from Pulock were to happen again, he's not a player the Islanders can easily replace in-house.
Dobson emerged last season as a puck-moving top-four defenseman tallying 13 Goals & 51 Points. The Islanders hope the 22-year-old blue liner continues to develop and soon becomes a first-pairing defenseman. While Mayfield goes under the radar at times he will be the Islanders' security blanket on the 3rd pair as he probably partners with either Salo or Aho and helps bring them along with the outside chance Cholowski competes for a roster spot. The problem lies with any injuries within the top 4. Relying on Salo, Aho, or Cholowski in elevated roles can certainly put Lane Lambert and Co. in a hole if those players aren't ready for heavier minutes.
Due to the cap crunch and lack of increase to the salary cap, the Isles had to move Devon Toews and Nick Leddy to stay cap compliant. The Islanders are hoping Salo can develop into a similar player to Toews or Leddy. As of now, Dobson is the closest thing to either of those players and losing him for any amount of time would certainly make the Isles blue line weaker.
If the Islanders were to lose a forward for a while other than Mathew Barzal, they could weather that storm with the depth they have. The same holds for in net as the Islanders have two number one goalies. But when it comes to their blue line they don't have that kind of depth.
In Lamoriello's August press conference he seemed happy with the depth of defensemen he has in the organization. It appears the roster before us is the roster we'll see at training camp despite some intriguing names still on the market. But, as always, Lamoriello could be holding his cards close to the vest.
Signing Calvin de Haan to a one-year deal with an AAV of $750,000 - $1 million (similarly to how Ryan Murray signed with Edmonton, 1-year, 750K) would be a good move in terms of adding some insurance. He is not a top-four defenseman any longer, but in a depth role, he'd certainly make the blue line stronger, even if it was just on a fill-in when necessary basis.
Lambert is the Isles "new voice" and part of that comes with developing the Islanders youth. If he finds success, the Islanders blue line could be a lot stronger than it appears as it stands. However, if not, the Islanders gamble with staying healthy could come back to haunt them.