The New York Islanders have a deep and talented roster, one that is only a few pieces away from winning the Stanley Cup. After trading Nick Leddy to the Detroit Red Wings, the team has a void in the defensive unit, particularly, on the left side alongside either Scott Mayfield or Noah Dobson. The Islanders re-signed 38-year-old Andy Greene and have prospects in the system that can become starters as the season progresses, but for a team looking to win now, general manager Lou Lamoriello and the front office will try to acquire a defenseman in free agency.
Ryan Suter’s tenure with the Minnesota Wild came to an abrupt end, as both the veteran defenseman and Zach Parise were bought out of their 12-year contracts. The duo can pair up again and sign with the Islanders, but Suter particularly can provide a great impact on the defensive unit. The 36-year-old is still playing great on the defensive end of the ice, completing a season where he averaged 22:11 minutes of ice time per game while adding 2.9 defensive point shares and 65 blocked shots.
Suter is a low-risk signing considering the Islanders know they will land a veteran who is excellent on the defensive end of the ice who will provide an immediate impact on the unit. The major problem with signing Suter however is his age – at 36 years old, he’s clearly past his prime and is only a short-term solution. The cap space might not be a glaring concern considering the veteran won’t garner an expensive contract, as he is still owed money from the Wild, but with plenty of defensemen available, there is reason to believe that the Islanders might look for a younger option for a similar price.
One of the under-the-radar, wild-card type of defensemen in Derek Forbort would give the Islanders a different look defensively. Forbort played with an enforcing presence with the Winnipeg Jets, cutting off angles at the blue line of opposing forwards and removing them from the puck with hard hits in the neutral zone and along the boards. Additionally, the 29-year-old isn’t a great skater who also doesn’t impact the offensive end of the ice, scoring only 12 points last season and recording only 53 points in his six-year career. The Islanders, however, would be interested in his defensive capabilities from the left side after a season where he blocked 115 shots. He’d also provide a different look for opposing skaters at 6-foot-4 and 219 pounds.
Forbort would likely take on a mid-range contract in the $4 million range, making him only a slight risk for the Islanders. The question is if his talent can put the team over the top, and if his unique skill set would benefit the defensive pairings or would ultimately damage them. Forbort would play in the second or third pairing and it would be a gamble to see him play alongside Mayfield or Dobson as a slower skater. The move would carry a greater risk but the upside can allow New York’s defense to remain one of the best in the NHL.
Options if the Islanders Fail to Sign a Defenseman
The Islanders’ defense was one of the best in the NHL last season in large part because of the three excellent pairings that allowed the team to cut off angles through the neutral zone and create turnovers in the defensive zone. The Isles still return five of the six defensemen from last season. There are prospects in Robin Salo and Sebastian Aho that can easily step up in the upcoming season to fill the void left by Leddy and similarly, Greene at 38 years old, can still play a limited role for one more season on the back end of the defensive unit. The front office has the options available if they want to take the leap and add to an already strong roster with the hopes of winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since the 1982-83 NHL season.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.