The Cal Clutterbuck for Nino Niederreiter swap will always go down as one of the most debatable trades the New York Islanders have made. While Clutterbuck has been a great Islander in his tenure, New York parted ways with another top-five pick in the NHL Draft during their rebuilding years early last decade.
Regardless, with the injury absence of Clutterbuck, the Islanders’ fourth line has needed an adjustment. For what most people consider the best line fourth line in the league, with Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Clutterbuck, the Islanders had to shift their lineup to replace the injured veteran. Earlier in December, Clutterbuck was cut on his wrist by Patrice Bergeron’s skate, immediately left the ice and has been out ever since. The Islanders will need him healthy if they hope to make a run in the playoffs.
Replacement for Clutterbuck
On the fourth line, Leo Komarov has found himself in the lineup, regularly taking Clutterbuck’s spot on the wing. While Komarov has yet to produce much offense, he has looked comfortable in that role. However, Clutterbuck brings a bit more offense to the team and is more physical.
Clutterbuck possesses one of the best wrist shots on the team. In 33 games, Clutterbuck has scored three goals, but had 15 in his third season with the Islanders in 2015-16. While New York hopes to have more options come the trade deadline, Clutterbuck sees time on the power play and is one of their best penalty killers, along with Cizikas.
Without Clutterbuck, head coach Barry Trotz has had to turn to different guys when down a man, including their leading goalscorer, Brock Nelson. Any limited ice time Nelson gets because of the penalty kill hurts the Islanders’ chances at 5-on-5 and on the power play. He is having his best offensive season and narrowly missed out on his first All-Star Game.
Lack of a Bottom Six
For much of the past month, the Islanders’ top two lines feature many of their most talented forwards. One glaring weakness for the team has been the plethora of players who are basically fourth liners. Currently, Ross Johnston and Tom Kuhnhackl are receiving third-line minutes, but play similar roles.
It has resulted in the fourth line receiving more minutes and this has impacted the Islanders with their lack of scoring. It’s hard to rely on players like Cizikas, Martin and Clutterbuck to defend the opposition’s top line and also score goals. For much of the past few seasons, they have been able to do that with Clutterbuck scoring game-winning goals and Cizikas scoring 20 goals for the first time in his career, but that is not going to be a recipe for success.
Also, for much of the season, Jordan Eberle and Josh Bailey have struggled to produce on the top lines. It has put more pressure on some of the younger players to produce in their limited time this season.
While the Islanders have been off for over a week with the All-Star break and bye week, it allowed Clutterbuck to have some time to recover. The last update provided by Trotz was that he has been training, but has yet to resume any on-ice activities.
The Islanders’ schedule will also pick up, as they play nearly every other day in the month of February. It will also be interesting to see if general manager Lou Lamoriello needs to make a trade to replace Clutterbuck if his injury ends up being season-ending.
At some point, New York will also need to look to bring up some of their young rookies again. Oliver Wahlstrom impressed during his first stint with the Islanders, and with the lack of offense, he could be just what the Islanders need before making a trade.
Their next game will be on Saturday, Feb. 1 when they take on the surprising red-hot Vancouver Canucks at the Barclays Center.