When the New York Islanders roster is dissected, the consensus is that among the identified needs for this off-season is a puck-moving defenseman. That was the case last summer and has been the case since GM Lou Lamoriello first traded Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche and then moved Nick Leddy to the Detroit Red Wings a year later in deals driven by salary cap limitations.
Those painful moves have hurt the Islanders on the power play and when skating 3-on-3 in overtime, but when playing 5-on-5, the stats show that the defense produced offensively to a level they hadn't reached in nearly 30 years. Michel Anderson of the Up The Turnpike shared a table on Monday listing the offensive production from defenseman at 5v5 last season.
The Islanders' defense registered 132 points (32 goals, 100 assists) which was fifth best in the league, behind only the Seattle Kraken, San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche, and Boston Bruins. The 1,566 shot attempts were second only to the Carolina Hurricanes (1,830).
After Lane Lambert was named head coach, much talk was centered around his style of play that would differ from predecessor Barry Trotz to unlock and ignite the Isles defense in ways that were more commonplace around the NHL. The defense would drive play more, pinch and get shots on net more often. Whatever you think about the Isles defense and their ineptitude on the power-play, those tweaks in messaging had their desired effect.
Overall, the defense scored 41 goals last season, that was the most they've scored since finding the net 42 times during the 2003-04 season. While they had 132 points at 5v5, they're 173 points overall was the most since the 1993-94 season, when they scored 174 points in an 84-game regular season.
Ahead of last year's draft, Lamoriello stated publicly that he ideally wanted to add two defenseman - one offensive and one defensibve. At the 2022 NHL Draft, he traded his 1st round pick (13th overall) for Alexander Romanov to solve for the defensive side, but was unable to find a trade partner to bring in the more offensive-minded defenseman.
Heading into this off-season, it's uncertain whether the Islanders have the cap space to bring back Scott Mayfield, who had the best offensive season of his career (six goals, 18 assists) and is due for a substantial raise after signing his team-friendly contract in 2018. So while free agents Dmitri Orlov or John Klingberg fit the bill, the same cap challenges could make that difficult, with or without Mayfield, back in the fold. Internally, Samuel Bolduc has the offensive skillset, and Sebastian Aho proved more reliable than in recent seasons.
If the Islanders are unable to add the puck-moving defensive to the blue line, then they'll have to rely on the style of play that led to more production from their D than they had in nearly three decades to make up for it with hopes that even-strength prowess can be translated to the power-play and when playing 3-on-3 in overtime.