Red Wings Boost the Blue Line with Nick Leddy Trade

Most of Hockeytown figured that the Detroit Red Wings and their general manager Steve Yzerman would make a move or two ahead of the trade freeze that precedes the Seattle Expansion Draft. On the other side of this deal, most people that follow the New York Islanders figured that their GM, Lou Lamoriello, would find a way to move defenseman Nick Leddy ahead of that same trade freeze. However, there were a sparse few (if any) that connected the dots between these two situations.

And then the news came out.

Since then, this move has divided Red Wings fans like nothing else has this year. There are plenty of pros and cons to this deal, so let’s break this move down.

Leddy Brings Offense

A veteran of 11 seasons in the NHL, Leddy has been a crucial defenseman for the Islanders since they acquired him from the Chicago Blackhawks back in 2014. He’s been a staple of their top four group, averaging 21:49 in ice time across seven seasons with the Islanders while playing in almost every situation. He won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2013, and he averaged just over 22 minutes of ice time during the Islanders’ back-to-back trips to the Eastern Conference Final/Final Four these last two seasons. With 776 regular season games and 121 playoff games of experience, he is easily the most experienced defenseman the Red Wings have signed heading into next season – and he’s not quite “old” yet at 30 years old.

But Leddy’s experience isn’t the big reason why this move was made. If experience was paramount to Yzerman, he could have re-signed Marc Staal and called it a day. Instead, this move is more about adding talent and offense to a blue line that has been sorely lacking it over the last few seasons. With a career points per-game average of .43, he has proven himself to be a steady offensive contributor from the blue line. Furthermore, he averaged 12.1 power-play points during his time on the island, and it’s no secret how much the Red Wings’ power-play has struggled in recent seasons (11.4 percent success-rate this season). Adding this player brings in a defenseman outside of Filip Hronek who can be relied upon to provide offense.

Leddy’s combination of offense, experience and his ability to play in most situations (he’s not a penalty killer) is what makes him a good bet to be prospect Moritz Seider’s defensive partner heading into next season. The young German plays a two-way game where he can shine at both ends of the ice, and Leddy’s offensive style could mesh well with that. Pairing Seider with somebody who has a championship ring isn’t the most important thing in the world, but it’s an added bonus as the sixth pick of the 2019 draft begins to feel his way through the NHL.

The Cost Vs. the Timing

In a vacuum, acquiring Leddy for a second round pick (pick 51, acquired in the Andreas Athansiou trade) and bottom six forward Richard Panik (with half of his $2.75 million cap hit retained by Detroit) is a genuinely good deal. The Red Wings should be able to flip Leddy at next season’s trade deadline for at least a second round pick, and they get all the perks mentioned in the previous section; the return-on-investment for this trade should be good.

But we are not in a vacuum; we are days away from an expansion draft, and mere hours away from a trade freeze that would have left the Islanders in a bind had they not moved Leddy. Making this move clears up cap room for them, and it ensures that they did not lose a top four defenseman for nothing. The Red Wings, on the other hand, did not need to make this move. Making this trade is doing the Islanders a solid, and you usually don’t have to cough up second round picks when you’re the one doing another team a favor.

Steve Yzerman, Christopher Ilitch
Did Yzerman get fleeced? (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Except this isn’t the same type of “favor” trade as the Red Wings pulled off with Staal and the New York Rangers last year. Leddy is still an effective top four defenseman, and Lamoriello was going to get some form of value for him. The Red Wings lack depth on the left side of the blue line – especially left handed defensemen that can reliably log the kind of minutes Leddy can. Yzerman was not going to be able to legitimately improve his team while low-balling Lamoriello. There were definitely other teams in on this player, but Yzerman made the best offer.

Look, Yzerman isn’t going to “fleece” his counterpart in every deal he makes. It seems like we’ve gotten so used to seeing him clearly win trades that when a trade is more on the even side, it feels like he got taken to the cleaners. This deal was struck between two of the best GM’s in the business – if Yzerman felt like he was getting hosed, he would have backed away, and so would have Lamoriello. This deal amounts to a one-year rental that will likely get traded down the line, in exchange for a pick outside of the top 50, in a draft where nobody knows where anybody is going to be selected.

Long-Term View

There’s no way around it: the Red Wings are not necessarily a team that should be trading draft picks for 30-year-old defensemen. Detroit now just has two picks in the second round, and the pressure to hit on at least one of them has increased after this trade. However, from the Red Wings’ perspective, this trade is as much about today as it is about tomorrow.

Nick Leddy New York Islanders
Nick Leddy, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Falling backwards after making considerable progress this season cannot be an option for this team. Rebuilding teams need to get better year after year, and they can’t do that by continuing to sign bottom-tier free agents and bringing on albatross contracts. Sooner or later, you need to improve your team in a meaningful way that doesn’t also hurt the health of the organization long-term.

Acquiring Leddy legitimately improves the Red Wings today while also giving them a nice trading asset in the future. All it cost them was a late second round pick and a bottom six forward that was a throw-in in the Anthony Mantha trade (side note: the one part of this deal that I don’t like is retaining Panik’s salary, but having $1.375 million on the books for the next two seasons is a minor inconvenience for a team that has the second-most salary cap space, behind only the Seattle Kraken, who don’t have a team yet.)

In the end, Yzerman and Lamoriello were able to come to an agreement on a deal that helps both sides. The Islanders gained flexibility and a draft choice, and the Red Wings added a quality veteran at a cheap cost. If it’s a win-win for both sides, nobody should be upset.

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