As with the New York Islanders trading Jordan Eberle, it’s important to point out the irony in trading away a player, in this case, Nick Leddy, to the Detroit Red Wings in 2021, due to cap constraints only to clear enough space and need a player to fill their spot. But timing is everything, and while that was true a month or even a few weeks ago, the emergence of Noah Dobson has changed the conversation around the need for a puck-moving defenseman to fill other needs on the back end. Either way, it’s clear the Islanders miss their puck-moving, smooth-skating defender in Leddy.
Islanders Miss Leddy
Almost immediately, Leddy, along with Johnny Boychuk, helped the Islanders’ blue line in trades at the end of the 2014-15 preseason. Though it took a few years and coach and general manager changes to really turn their defense into a force, Leddy was a huge reason behind their ability to make this change alongside much of their homegrown defensive talent.
But what Leddy also helped bring to the table was his offensive ability. In his last season with the Islanders, he collected 31 points (two goals, 29 assists), his highest point total in the Barry Trotz era. Leddy’s ability to find offense on his own or create it through shifty zone entries allowed the Islanders’ blue line to contribute offensively, which is important considering the somewhat restrictive system forwards play under Trotz.
When it was all said and done, over Leddy’s seven seasons with the Islanders, he scored 243 points (45 goals, 198 assists) in 518 regular-season games, adding 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 67 playoff games. His 243 points rank him fourth all-time in Islanders history among defenders. With an offensive drop-off from star defenseman Ryan Pulock, his output was really important for the success of the Islanders during his tenure.
In addition to his success on the scoresheet, Leddy provided Trotz with a go-to defender in most situations. One of the longest-tenured defenders on the team also logged the second-most minutes over the last few seasons, including an average of 21:35 in 2020-21. With the team currently struggling to find balance, especially with Pulock still out of the lineup, Leddy’s presence is definitely a hole the team has yet to fill. Though Dobson has turned it up lately, scoring 10 points in the last 10 games, he’s yet to emerge as an all-situations type of defender, though his offensive output is certainly more than welcomed.
Islanders Retooling Defense
While the team definitely misses Leddy, the problems on the back end are deeper than one player. The Islanders’ defense without Leddy, even with the addition of Zdeno Chara, was cause for concern from the very start of the season. Could Chara be a night-in, night-out player at his age? Though he’s played better as of late, other teams continue to expose his lack of maneuverability, something Leddy had in excess.
“We don’t have a Nick Leddy,” Trotz said earlier this season. “Really the changes is [sic] Nick Leddy and Chara. They’re absolutely the total opposites as players. We need the other guys to just collectively try to add some of that element. There’s no one that skates like Nick Leddy on our defense at all. He’s one of those elite skaters. That’s part of the salary cap world that we’ve had to deal with. We just have to adjust with the players that we have.”(from ‘Islanders Blue Line Still Feeling Loss of Nick Leddy without Adequate Replacement’, NYI Hockey Now, 11/4/21)
But there’s some good news for the Islanders’ retooling defense. On top of Dobson’s rising stock, Robin Salo has shown glimpses of a player who could add some of Leddy’s flare to the Islanders’ back end. Beyond wearing number two, Leddy’s former number with the Islanders, the 2017 second-round pick is known for his offensive ability. And at just 23 (two years older than Dobson), Salo has a decent amount of experience behind him already after seven professional seasons in Finland and Sweden. His debut with the Islanders this season also showed he can log a good amount of minutes, similar to Leddy. In his first game, Salo led the Islanders with 21:42 worth of ice time.
“He had a really good camp and played in the elite league in Sweden, and we know he’s a good young player,” Trotz said of Salo. “He’s got lots of poise and handles the puck really well, he sees the ice really well. On the power play, he’s got lots of deception, but I love the fact that he gets it and he moves it and it opens up some lanes.”
All of this is a good sign for the Islanders, though it may take some time for Salo to fully adapt to the NHL and make an impact like Leddy. In the meantime, Dobson is playing well, taking the heat off of some of his fellow defenders. The Islanders certainly miss Leddy this season, but only time will tell if they can retool on the fly and find the defensive game synonymous with Islanders hockey.
Jon Zella is a 31-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.