The return of Zdeno Chara to the New York Islanders after a 20-year hiatus started as a feel-good story, but has turned into a problem for the blue line rather quickly.
Chara has no points in the first four games, has made a handful of poor decisions that have put his team in difficult situations and, while an antiquated system of evaluating a player, is a minus-3 for New York. Far from the ideal start that was expected out of him this year.
With Nick Leddy gone, Zdeno Chara started the season on the second defensive pairing, alongside youngster Noah Dobson. Chara took Dobson under his wings throughout training camp, with the 21-year old defenseman looking to learn a lot from a player who has played in the NHL longer than he has been alive.
While the insightful information for sure will benefit Dobson, playing together has not panned out early on.
Chara, the oldest player in the NHL, struggled to keep up with the opposition and made vital mistakes in the first four games. It is no shocker that he has regressed given his age, but it is concerning that he’s failed to make simple plays.
It’s created problems for Dobson, who is trying to take the next step in his development and needs the same stability that he had last season with Andy Greene.
Islanders head coach Barry Trotz has stood up for the veteran blueliner. While agreeing that Chara has made mistakes, Trotz also pointed to the play of those around Chara.
“We brought him in to defend, get pucks out, be a good penalty killer,” Trotz said. “I think he can do that. There’s going to be an adjustment period for him and for us.”
“He’s been better than the plus-minus, put it that way.”
But has he been?
Plus/minus is never a strong statistic to use when judging a player, but his minus-3 may make him look better than what the eye test shows.
It has not just been Chara that has struggled on defense. It’s been a handful of guys, which led to Trotz shuffling his defense during Tuesday’s win over Chicago and before the matchup with Columbus Thursday night.
Chara ended up alongside Ryan Pulock and Dobson was reunited with Greene. Chara continued to make mistakes, but Pulock provided more support than Dobson had given him.
Dobson also looked a lot more comfortable with Greene.
With a back-to-back situation this weekend, it may be in the Islanders’ best interest to sit Chara and play Sebastian Aho in his place. At least in one of the two games.
Aho had a strong camp, and it would not be a bad idea to give him a look and see if he can be a solution.
Sitting Chara doesn’t mean his time with the Islanders is over. It is a long 82-game season, a long road trip with nine more games to go before debuting at UBS Arena. It’s about what is best for the Islanders in the short term.
Needing time to get acclimated to a new system is not a new issue for Islander newcomers.
When the Islanders acquired then eight-year veteran Jean-Gabriel Pageau from Ottawa at the 2020 trade deadline, he was immediately given a six-year extension. He only had two goals in seven games before the COVID pause, with the Islanders going 0-3-4 in that span.
It was not until returning for the postseason that Pageau showcased his worth.
Defenseman Andy Greene, who was acquired a few days prior, was called upon to help alleviate the defensive struggles. Greene committed nine turnovers in 10 games before the pause and did not start to come around until playoff time.
This past season, Kyle Palmieri struggled mightily with New Jersey before being acquired a few days before the trade deadline. The struggles continued with just two points in 17 games before the postseason saw him come alive.
It took time, way more than three games, for the players above to get comfortable.
However, the situation with Chara is a bit different.
All those players were acquired around trade deadline day, with the Islanders in the middle of playoff pushes.
After two successful postseason runs, Islanders are now a “Cup or Bust” team in the eyes of many, which brings added pressure.
Chara is a 24-year NHL veteran and is more than aware that he is not off to a strong start. He knows what he has to do to help the Islanders. Right now, he hasn’t gotten the job done and the Islanders need to insert someone into their lineup to help turn the tide.