The NY Islanders' argument to play and to bench Robert Bortuzzo

There are pros and cons to playing the 34-year-old defenseman down the stretch in 2023-24.

Dec 27, 2023; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (41) controls the
Dec 27, 2023; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (41) controls the / Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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The NY Islanders are as whole on defense as they have been all season. Aside from Scott Mayfield who just underwent season-ending surgery, all eight defensemen are finally healthy. This includes six of the seven on the opening night roster, as well as both in-season trade and waiver acquisitions. Given this conundrum, Patrick Roy has eight defensemen to choose from for just six spots on a nightly basis.

In writing out the lineup card, the coaching staff must take into consideration the 2024-25 roster just as much as winning the game in front of them. The Islanders will have holes to fill on the blue line with limited cap space come the offseason. Furthermore, the team has to decide on pending free agents and fringe players with less of a cap hit. One of those free agents getting an opportunity is 34-year-old Robert Bortuzzo who is just returning from LTIR with an upper-body injury. On a team that is evaluating for next season as well trying to make the playoffs in 2023-24, what is the purpose of playing Bortuzzo down the stretch?

The reason to play him: Bortuzzo's veteran presence and a potential bench role for next season.

In the wake of Ryan Pulock's lower-body injury against the Columbus Blue Jackets on December 7th, Lou Lamoriello needed to find a replacement for one of his most consistent defensemen. In reaction, the Islanders acquired Bortuzzo from the St. Louis Blues for a 2024 seventh-round draft pick on December 8th. Before the trade, the 34-year-old defenseman was coming off the bench in spot starts for the Blues, only appearing in 4 games this season. While this trade was never going to make the Isles a playoff contender, this move was made to get an experienced NHL blue liner on the roster until Pulock was ready to return.

Bortuzzo was the ideal trade not because of his talent level, but for his veteran presence. A 15-year NHL veteran, Bortuzzo has always been a bottom pairing on the Blues and has performed well in that role. His profile is an aggressive forechecker who isn't afraid to block shots for his goaltender. In seasons in which Bortuzzo played 70 or more games, he recorded more than 100 blocked shots and hits in each of them. Furthermore, he was a part of the Blues team that won the 2018-19 Stanley Cup Championship. For this experience, Bortuzzo can be trusted in his regular 14-minute ice time type of role.

In evaluating for next season's roster, Bortuzzo can be a candidate to return in a lesser role than he was acquired. Mayfield is coming off of surgery, meaning there is no guarantee he will be ready for training camp. In this scenario, the Isles will need right-handed blue line depth to replace his ice time. Preferably, that defensive depth will have experience with the other Islanders' defensemen. For the right price, Bortuzzo fits this role especially since he will not garner more than a one-year contract.