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 reason to bench him: An opportunity to evaluate a younger player in Samuel Bolduc.

Aside from Bortuzzo, the Islanders have multiple defensemen who are not guaranteed ice time right now or in the future. Sebastian Aho is one of those 'fringe' players set to reach free agency. In 2023-24, Aho has struggled to play on his offside this season, though he's still just 28 years old and did develop great chemistry with Mayfield last season. Since both Aho and Bortuzzo will be free agents, they fall into the 'who gives us the best chance to win now' category given they are not guaranteed to return. Neither one will command a multi-year contract in free agency and have different defensive characteristics, making this decision on who should play up a moot point based on matchups.

Samuel Bolduc is the other fringe player who is questionable to return in 2024-25. He had a disappointing start to the season filling in for Adam Pelech on the Isles blue line, though started to play well when paired with Bortuzzo. He is also just 23-years-old and figures to improve with experience. Bolduc is also signed for $800K through next season, making his current benching in favor of Bortuzzo more questionable. An argument can be made for Bolduc to receive more of an opportunity since he is the most likely to return as well as his potential upside. 

Additionally, the Islanders know the type of performance Bortuzzo will provide. He is not known for his offense, having recorded just 54 points in 424 career games. The decision to write off Bolduc at just 23 years old with just 50 games of NHL experience is questionable. The Islanders possess a roster that is bereft of younger talent and will be limited in their ability to sign free agents. Playing a 34-year-old rental player down the stretch does not bode well in evaluating for the future. For this reason, it makes more sense for the Isles to play Bolduc instead of Bortuzzo.