Islanders Made 3 Moves That Caused This Season’s Struggles

The New York Islanders entered this season with Stanley Cup aspirations. After consecutive Stanley Cup Semifinal appearances, the expectation for the 2021-22 season was to be among the best teams in the Eastern Conference and a deep playoff run to follow. This season has been one to forget. The Islanders have only won 21 of their 52 games and have the sixth-best record in the Metropolitan Division.

Related: Revisiting Islanders’ Nick Leddy to Detroit Trade

While a lot has gone wrong for the Islanders, including injuries to key players on the roster and a slow start, the front office has made costly moves in recent seasons to leave the roster with glaring weaknesses. Lou Lamoriello is one of the most respected executives in the NHL. He has built the team into a Stanley Cup contender in recent seasons, but a few of his decisions have backfired, to say the least.

Trading Devon Toews

The Islanders traded Devon Toews during the 2020 offseason to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for two second-round draft selections. The move was understandable at the time with the Islanders opening up cap space to sign Mathew Barzal to a three-year, $21 million contract. Moreover, the team was confident that Noah Dobson would step up on the defense and impact all three zones. However, this season the roster is feeling the impact of the trade without the two-way defenseman on the roster.

Devon Toews Colorado Avalanche
Devon Toews, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Playing alongside Cale Makar, Toews has turned the Avalanche defense into one of the best in the NHL and most importantly, has helped open up the offense from the point. This season, Toews has 11 goals and 32 assists while also contributing 4.9 defensive point shares and 58 blocked shots on the defensive end of the ice to help the Avalanche boast the best record in the NHL.

The Islanders, on the other hand, have struggled to find production from the point. They lack speed at the blue line to limit opposing skaters in the neutral zone with the puck. The defensive unit has also struggled to carry the puck into the offensive zone and start up the offense, which Toews particularly excels with. While the Islanders also traded Nick Leddy during the 2021 offseason, another two-way defenseman that helped the team in all three zones, the loss of Toews has hurt the team most because he is one of the best skating defensemen in the game.

Leaving Jordan Eberle Unprotected in the Expansion Draft

The Islanders made some surprising decisions with their protection list for the expansion draft, notably, leaving Jordan Eberle, Josh Bailey, and Kieffer Bellows unprotected. The Kraken ended up selected Eberle and took on his five-year, $27 Million contract, opening up salary cap score for the Islanders to re-sign pending free agents like Kyle Palmieri and Casey Cizikas. The loss of the veteran scorer didn’t appear costly at first, but as the season developed, the move continued to hurt the Islanders and their offense in particular.

Jordan Eberle, Seattle Kraken
Jordan Eberle, Seattle Kraken (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Throughout the season, the Islanders have struggled to find a top line forward to help out Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee. Barzal particularly benefited from Eberle on the right wing as a scorer that could take advantage of open ice in the offensive zone and find the back of the net with strong scoring instincts. Eberle meanwhile has 15 goals and 17 assists for a Kraken offense that has struggled, scoring only 2.55 goals per game. The Kraken might be having a rough inaugural season, winning only 17 of their 57 games, but the former Islander is one of the forwards they will look to build their offense around in the upcoming seasons.

Signing Zdeno Chara

Initially, signing Zdeno Chara with a one-year deal looked like the final piece in the defensive unit with the Islanders in need of a left side defenseman to take some pressure off Adam Pelech and Andy Greene. Instead, Chara has slowed down the defensive unit and struggled to clear the puck out of the defensive zone and effectively start up the offense following turnovers. Moreover, the veteran defenseman has struggled to open up the offense from the point and has become a liability offensively.

The Islanders have started younger defensemen throughout the season including Sebastian Aho and Robin Salo, especially recently with the 44-year-old defenseman injured. While the younger defensemen have struggled at times in the defensive zone, they have provided speed to the unit and will help out the defensive unit both this season and in the long run instead of Chara.

Other Moves That Hurt the Islanders

Initially, the Kyle Palmieri signing looked disastrous as the 31-year-old forward only scored one goal in the first 29 games of the season. However, with six goals in the last 10 games it looks like Palmieri is starting to find his shot in the offensive zone and provide depth to the Islanders forward unit. Ultimately, the other costly move for the Islanders was trading Nick Leddy to the Detroit Red Wings. Leddy had his weaknesses but played a pivotal role on the left side of the defense and at the point on the power play. His skating helped the team transition to the offensive end of the ice, which has been a primary struggled this season.