Going into this unique offseason, it was apparent the New York Islanders had difficult decisions to make with the flat cap.
That first real casualty came in the form of trading defenseman Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche for a pair of second-round draft picks.
As was posited on this site before the start of free agency, the Islanders didn’t have a ton of space to make a splashy move and Lou Lamoriello needed to keep his focus on the team’s own restricted free agents. By dealing Toews, it left the Islanders more room in the future with cap space. In the short run, it doesn’t affect the cap space the team has this offseason, but it could help them make moves to free up some space.
But the Islanders also had to consider what the contracts they would end up paying out to their other big restricted free agents — Ryan Pulock and Mathew Barzal. Coupled with uncertainty of what the salary cap situation for the entire league might look like over the next few years, the Toews trade makes sense under that context.
“Any time you see one of your friends and teammates traded, it sucks,’’ Anders Lee said this earlier week. “It’s not fun. It’s part of our business, that side of it. Devon is a great guy and a great player, and you wish him nothing but the best in Colorado.”
On its face, the loss of Toews is a tough one for the Islanders for a number of reasons. He was a key piece on the power play and he excelled in his possession metrics.
According to Hockey Reference, Toews had a 6.1 Corsi relative percentage last season, which was the best among the team’s defensemen. It did take a dip to 1.1 percent in New York’s extended postseason run and he struggled in the Eastern Conference Final, but Toews was an integral puck-moving blue liner for the Islanders the last two seasons.
So where do the Islanders get those minutes and production from now that Toews is in another uniform?
Well, the easy answer is to say Noah Dobson comes in and becomes a full-time player after an impressive 34-game stint in 2019-20. In fact, Dobson’s 4.8 Corsi relative percentage was the best among Islanders defenseman after Toews, albeit in about half the games played.
But Dobson’s pedigree and ability to play well within the defensive zone have made him a valuable piece of the puzzle going forward. When the Islanders made the deal with Colorado, Lamoriello said the team would not have even considered the move had they not had Dobson already in the mix.
“We would not have made this move if the ice time that Devon received, we didn’t have the ability to put a player into that,” Lamoriello said. “And Noah Dobson, we feel, is certainly ready to take the next step.”
The issue here is Dobson is a right-handed defenseman, so it’s pretty safe to assume he won’t be sliding to the left side. So that leaves the Islanders with a hole on the left. Andy Greene will likely don orange and blue next season and would be the top candidate to play alongside Dobson from the outset. But in turning 38 this coming season, it will be interesting to see what Greene can provide not only in minutes but in quality play down the stretch.
The Islanders did re-up with left-handed shooting Sebastian Aho earlier this month, and though he only has 22 NHL games under his belt, he’s still just 24 years old and gives the Islanders a little more depth on the left side.
There are options to fill the hole on defense, but there are plenty of question marks if the Islanders can still replicate — or get close to — the numbers Toews had with the New York Islanders.
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