The New York Islanders enter the offseason with a handful of priorities to help the roster. After a head coaching change, where the Islanders fired Barry Trotz and promoted Lane Lambert to the head coaching position, the issues now shift for Lou Lamoriello and the front office to the team on the ice.
Among the Islanders’ needs are a goal scorer, a puck distributor, and a two-way defenseman. A defenseman is a particular need as the team struggled on the left side of the defense last season, especially in the later pairings. Moreover, Noah Dobson, who is emerging as one of the best young defensemen on the Islanders and in the game needs a defenseman to play alongside him and, along with Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock, will create a second two-way pairing for the team’s defense.
Jakob Chychrun is the top defenseman on the trade block with the Arizona Coyotes looking to add more prospects and draft picks while the rest of the league is looking to pursue the talented defenseman. He is coming off a rough 2021-22 season where he dealt with injuries, only scored seven goals and 14 assists, and contributed only 1.1 defensive point shares, the lowest of his career. However, many teams are interested in acquiring the 24-year-old defenseman who is entering the prime of his career and the Islanders will be no exception.
The question is if the Islanders can move enough players to acquire an elite defenseman like Chychrun. While the prospect pool is one of the worst in the league, the team could move some veteran players along with draft selections to acquire him. In the end, the Coyotes will accept the best offer and if the Islanders can provide the best deal, they can secure the two-way defenseman.
Acquiring Chychrun would pay off for the Islanders both next season and for years to come. The defense would have two elite pairings and Dobson would play alongside another scoring defenseman that ultimately would open up the ice for the rest of the skaters to boost an offense that struggled last season. Chychrun is the ideal defenseman to pair with Dobson and the one the Islanders ideally want to acquire in a trade, but the team has to hope the Coyotes are willing to deal him this offseason.
Brenden Dillon isn’t the first defenseman that comes to mind but the veteran has put together a strong 10-year career, especially in the defensive zone. He was a key defenseman for the San Jose Sharks for six seasons, helping them reach the Stanley Cup Final and Western Conference Final while playing on the second pairing. Likewise, he helped the Washington Capitals’ defense improve throughout two seasons with the team before getting traded to the Winnipeg Jets last offseason. While the 31-year-old defenseman played on a Jets defensive unit that struggled, allowing 3.09 goals per game, he still put together a strong season with 4.0 defensive point shares and 108 blocked shots.
The Jets might be looking to retool their roster this offseason after missing the playoffs. As a result, they could look to move Dillon who has three years left on his contract and could give the team a strong return in a trade as a valuable defenseman. While he won’t open up the offense or have a strong presence from the point, he would secure the left side of the Islanders’ defense playing alongside Dobson or Scott Mayfield. The veteran defenseman has a reputation for improving defensive units and the Islanders could potentially have one of the best defenses in the NHL like the unit they possessed in the 2020-21 season that allowed only 2.23 goals per game.
The Montreal Canadiens finished last season with the worst record in the NHL, 22-49-11. While the team may try to be competitive next season, it’s more likely that the Canadiens are facing a difficult rebuild and will look to trade some veterans in the offseason as a result. Jeff Petry has three years left on his contract and a modified no-trade clause, but for a strong offer, could be traded this offseason and the Islanders could be a perfect fit.
At 34-year-old, Petry is past his prime and doesn’t have the same speed and scoring ability from the blue line as he used to. Moreover, the veteran defenseman is coming off a rough season in the Canadiens’ defense, which allowed a league-worst 3.87 goals per game. However, he is still a great two-way defenseman who could help the Islanders’ defense for multiple years. The Islanders hope their defensive unit is younger next season and will look to acquire a player under 30 years old but a veteran defenseman who can still open up the offense from the point but will also benefit the team and likewise help put the defense over the top.
This offseason, the player on the Calgary Flames that everyone will look to acquire is pending free agent Johnny Gaudreau, who has completed a season where he scored 40 goals and 75 assists. However, the Flames, who are currently making a Stanley Cup run, enter the offseason with multiple pending free agents, including two left-side defensemen in Oliver Kylington and Nikita Zadorov. While Kylington is a restricted free agent that will likely be re-signed, Zadorov will likely test free agency after having a strong season on one of the best defenses in the NHL. The 27-year-old defenseman wouldn’t put the Islanders’ defense over the top and wouldn’t necessarily open up the offense but would provide stability, specifically in the neutral zone and defensive zone as a reliable skater.
Other Defensemen the Islanders Could Acquire
The Islanders could acquire Nick Leddy, who the team traded in the 2021 offseason but is a pending free agent and could re-sign with the team he had his best season with. Leddy is 31 years old and has struggled defensively, but the two-way defenseman is a great puck handler and played a pivotal role in the Islanders’ power play. The team felt his absence this season as the defense looked slower and struggled to carry the puck out of the defensive zone. In the end, the front office is looking to find speed and a two-way defenseman that can help fill the void that is currently on the left side of the unit. Some of the prospects like Robin Salo or Grant Hutton could make an impact on the defensive unit next season but the front office will more likely look to make a splash this offseason.
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.