Of all the years the New York Islanders had to make a move at the NHL trade deadline, this was it.
Entering Monday’s final chance to swap players for the rest of the regular season, the Islanders were just two points back of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference despite glaring deficiencies on defense.
Somehow, the Islanders possess a winning record (29-27-7, 65 points) despite allowing 225 goals in 63 games. They are the only team in the league at this point to have allowed 200 or more goals and possess a winning record, let alone remain in the playoff picture. The crosstown rival Rangers (27-30-6) are the only other team that has allowed that many goals (201) and have 60 points.
While they have experienced some injury issues with the loss of Calvin de Haan for the year, Scott Mayfield for four weeks, Johnny Boychuk, who has since returned, for six weeks, New York has lined up an inexperienced, small, soft defense.
Nick Leddy, Thomas Hickey, Sebastian Aho and Dennis Seidenberg are blueliners who play more of a finesse game who are incapable of moving players away from the front of their goal or can win puck battles in the corner. Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock are still raw who often show their inexperience through defensive lapses.
Head coach Doug Weight’s style of play doesn’t necessarily help as he’s content on his team building their attack from inside their own zone. However, it leaves the team susceptible to giveaways in dangerous positions; an all too familiar sight for Islanders fans this season.
They really have their offense to thank as they have simply outscored teams on many occasions this year. Captain John Tavares and Anders Lee are the first Islander teammates to record 30 goals in the same season since the 2011-12 season while Mathew Barzal has been one of the frontrunners for the Calder Trophy, the league’s Rookie of the Year award, with a team-leading 66 points (17 G, 49 A).
Alongside Josh Bailey (15 G, 47 A), who looks as though he’s finally put things together despite this being his 10th NHL season, Tavares and Barzal have created the first trio of Islanders to record 60 or more points in six years.
In total, New York has racked up 207 goals this year, fifth-most in the league. The four teams ahead of the Islanders — the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets — all have at least 83 points.
That’s because all four teams have allowed at least 43 goals fewer than the Islanders.
So it was pretty clear that general manager Garth Snow had to go out and bolster his blue line at the trade deadline with a top-four-caliber defenseman. You don’t need to be a seasoned NHL executive to realize that.
Actually, you don’t really need to watch a lot of hockey to realize that.
Instead, Snow traded a third-round draft pick to the Edmonton Oilers for Brandon Davidson, an unproven defenseman who hasn’t played more than 51 games in a season and has put up a minus-eight rating over the past two seasons before dealing struggling winger Jason Chimera to the Anaheim Ducks for forward Chris Wagner.
While Wagner will add more grit to the team and a boost in backchecking — he ranks second in the league with 212 hits — it still doesn’t address a defense that is fundamentally broken.
That was all Snow managed to pull off as once again, he did basically nothing to better his team’s chances of making the postseason.
It’s a statement fans and pundits alike have been saying for the last 11 years as the man responsible for pulling the strings seems ignorant to his own team’s needs.
In the meantime, the Blue Jackets, who were just two points ahead of the Islanders entering Monday night, pulled off three trades to acquire veterans defenseman Ian Cole along with forwards Mark Letestu and Thomas Vanek.
They promptly defeated the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals, who were passed by the Philadelphia Flyers, on Monday night to open up a four-point cushion ahead of the Islanders.
Columbus got better in anticipation for a legitimate playoff push.
The Islanders did not.
Should New York fade at the end of the year and not make the playoffs, they’ll have to try and sell captain Tavares, a pending free agent, on re-signing with a team that is clearly not dedicated to winning. If they actually were committed instead of just saying it, Snow would have done a lot more at the deadline to get this team in a better position to contend.
It’s the 11th-straight season of this team basically being stuck in neutral and something has to change. Unfortunately, it might result in the Islanders’ franchise player testing the waters in free agency this summer to usher it in.
That means co-owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin have to seriously consider letting Snow go at the end of this season, if not sooner. If they don’t, they will quickly become just another part of the problem that has plagued this franchise for almost 35 years.