The NHL Expansion Draft is less than a month away and the New York Islanders will likely lose a piece of the puzzle that got them to the Stanley Cup Semifinals to the Seattle Kraken. While no one can read into the thought process of team general manager Lou Lamoriello, two Islander players that played every day could be unprotected given their struggles this season.
There is no easy choice for Lamoriello, but leaving Leddy and Eberle exposed in the draft could protect the Islanders from losing a piece that had been a bigger cornerstone to their success the past two seasons. Here is the case for leaving Leddy and Eberle unprotected in the Expansion Draft.
For Leddy, his play has been on the decline over the last few seasons. His strength, which is his puck-carrying ability, does not happen often enough, and his play in his own zone has been problematic. His performance in Game 7 against Tampa left much to be desired. At the age of 30, it seems the mileage over his 11 years in the NHL has taken a toll.
Statistically, the seven-year Islanders defensman cleaned up his act from a rough 2019-20 campaign. He went from 0.87 turnovers per game to 0.53. He put up 10 more points in four more games over that span and showcased that he still could rack up assists, with 29 this season.
While his offensive numbers looked strong, Leddy only recorded six takeaways this past season. In 2019-2020, he had 17.
In the 19 postseason games, Leddy assisted on six goals, with 10 giveaways and four takeaways. He did block 25 shots, but the negatives surely outweighed the positives.
Now Leddy’s struggles during the regular season are attributed to the struggles of his linemate Scott Mayfield, who had a rough go of things this season before turning things around in the playoffs.
Leddy has one year remaining on the seven-year deal he signed back in 2015, worth $5.5 million. The Islanders are in a cap crunch, and given their situation and Leddy’s struggles, losing him to Seattle would not be the worst thing. Second-year NHLer Noah Dobson should see his role elevated in 2021 after extensive growth in his game this past season.
25-year old defenseman Sebastian Aho signed a two-year deal before the 2019-20 season began ($725,000 annual hit) and could be a replacement if need be. 20-year old prospect Samuel Bolduc impressed the Islanders coaching staff during the preseason, and after a pretty solid first season in Bridgeport (6 goals, 8 assists, plus-5 in 24 games), he could make the team out of camp.
38-year old Andy Greene, a pending unrestricted free agent that would not demand much and he sounds more than willing to return to the Islanders next season if the team so chose to do.
“At the end of the day, it’s a business,” Leddy said on Sunday. “The people we play with and hang out with are lifelong friends and always will be.”
Leddy would be an appealing asset in the Expansion Draft for the Kraken considering his offensive abilities.
For Jordan Eberle, he has not been the goal scorer the Islanders envisioned when they made the trade with the Edmonton Oilers back in the summer of 2017. He scored 25 goals in his first season on Long Island, but he has not passed the 20-goal plateau since then. After racking up 59 points that first year, he has seen a dip in his offensive numbers and has only been able to get as high as 40 points once over the last three seasons.
If there was ever a season for Eberle to bounce back, it was this one.
When Islanders captain Anders Lee tore his ACL in the second week of March, the Islanders top line struggled to produce. While Mathew Barzal did all he could, Eberle did not help take the weight off his shoulders. Most of the issues with the top line stemmed from Leo Komarov’s offensive ability or lack thereof, but Eberle did not do his job in helping that line get over the hump.
Eberle did have 11 points in 19 postseason games, with four goals and seven assists, but the fourth-year Islander was too streaky this postseason. After scoring his first two goals in Games 4 and 5 against Pittsburgh in the First Round, he went another six games without finding the back of the net. And then another six games before he scored in Game 6 against the Lightning in the semifinals.
The Islanders needed him to step up his game, but unfortunately, he did not.
Eberle has two years remaining at $5.5 million annually, and at 31, the expectation that he will become the goal scorer the team needs is more wishful thinking than reality.
If Seattle takes Eberle in the Expansion Draft, that means that Oliver Wahlstrom will see his role elevated next season. Wahlstrom put up 12 goals and nine assists in 44 regular-season games. He gained enough confidence from head coach Barry Trotz to be in the lineup once the postseason began. Unfortunately, an injury in Game 5 of the First Round ended his postseason early and he was never able to rejoin the lineup, even when he was healthy. Veteran Travis Zajac, a pending UFA, took his place, and Trotz elected to stay that route.
Pending UFA Kyle Palmieri, who was tied with Brock Nelson for the team lead with seven goals this postseason, is eager to return. With Eberle’s contract off the books, the chances of re-signing Palmieri become significantly higher.
“As a player, you really can’t think about that stuff,” said Eberle about Seattle. “It’s out of your control. There’s always guys moving around.
“I’ve been traded once. You start worrying about that stuff you can’t control, and it makes it worse.”