The Islanders have had a great offseason, but there’s one glaring hole- the defense. Garth Snow has done an excellent job of bringing in talent between the pipes, as well as acquiring depth at the forward positions. However, defensively the team failed to improve from outside the organization much. With Calvin de Haan and Lubomir Visnovsky being listed as day to day before the season even starts, the team is already down to considering young Ryan Pulock for a starting job. The question here, is should the Islanders make a trade to improve the defense, or grow from within?
Arguments for Growing Defense From Within
The Islanders have spent the last few seasons drafting defense extremely heavily. It wasn’t until this past season that the team spent a first round pick on a forward. Drafting Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Pulock certainly gave them two of the better defensive prospects in the NHL, as well as bringing in other names such as Kevin Czuczman, Ville Pokka, Scott Mayfield and more.
These young defensemen are all fighting for a spot in the NHL, alongside more tenured young guns such as Matt Donovan, Aaron Ness, and others. All this competition is clearly good for the team because it forces players to be even better to beat each other out for a spot. In addition, you get a wide array of choices and have a better idea of what direction to go in in the event of injuries at the NHL level.
Bringing in a defenseman from outside the organization forces these players to spend another year in the minors, where they might not need to be in terms of development. Is it worth it to waste a year of these player’s development, and does a single defenseman at some trade value take them to the next level?
Arguments for Acquiring Defense Via Trade
The Islanders have built from within for quite some time. That seemed to end this offseason a bit where they signed a completely new goaltending tandem, as well as signing some depth at the forward position in the way of Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolay Kulimen, and Cory Conacher. However, the defensive additions were highlighted by T.J. Brennan- largely a career AHLer.
Now, Brennan certainly put up impressive numbers last year for the Toronto Marlies, and could become a great addition to the power play unit for the Islanders. However, is he enough to shore up a defense that has for so long desperately needed help?
The Boston Bruins have made it very well known that they will likely trade a defensemen in order to become cap compliant. Considering the fact that the Bruins will need to move someone in order to get below that cap threshold, and the Islanders have inexpensive pieces to move such as picks and prospects, it would not be insane to expect a move here. While many fans have been clamoring for Johnny Boychuck, and he might be the logical option for the Bruins to move, he might come at a more expensive price.
Other teams, such as the Blackhawks, also have expressed interest in moving some defensemen. While they are apparently not looking to deal Johnny Oduya, a deal for Nick Leddy could certainly be made. However, the question remains- does he help the team improve dramatically now? And, if there’s any shadow of a doubt that the answer is no, a move shouldn’t be made.
Top Defensemen Don’t Grow On Trees
Far too often you’ll see on Twitter, Facebook, or other outlets that fans would love to see the team acquire a “mean, crease clearing defenseman that’s responsible in their own end.” However, I’d love to ask any hockey fan where they’re finding this defenseman and what team is willing to trade them for the fan proposed Bailey/Grabner, picks, and prospects.
Frankly, big time defenseman are not traded. Defense is a precious commodity in today’s NHL, especially since the game has been geared to favor the defenseman that can chip in offensively and join the rush. The big, hulking defenseman who’s also a Norris Trophy candidate? There are maybe a handful of those in the league, and they’re almost certainly not available for any price.
So, now, if you’re Garth Snow, ask yourself this question- are you selling the farm to get a marginal upgrade on defense? That is a question that the Islanders General Manager will have to think long and hard about, not only before the season starts- but during it as well. This may be the best Islander team in years. Let’s see what they can do.