The Islanders’ defense was essentially a defense in name only in 2017-18 because, let’s face it, the team didn’t do much stopping of the puck.
The 293 goals the Islanders yielded were the most by any team since 2006-07. Their penalty kill operated at a 73.2 percent success rate, the lowest by any team since 1988-89. And there were six games when the Islanders allowed at least 50 shots. Opponents fired at least 40 shots on goal 20 times during the season.
The Islanders allowed five or more goals in regulation an astonishing 20 times, including three straight games from Dec. 31 to Jan. 4. The Islanders gave up 29 goals over a six-game span from Dec. 29 for Jan. 7, allowing at least four goals in each of those.
Coach Doug Weight started the season de-emphasizing blocked shots in order to give his goalies clearer sightlines and switched defensive strategies near the mid-season mark, essentially going from more man-on-man coverage to the zone.
Of course, defense is a six-player effort so not all the blame can be placed on the defensemen.
“We scored enough but there just wasn’t any defense,” veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk said after the season ended.
The Islanders must improve their personnel, scheme and execution for next season.
Here’s a look at the Islanders defensemen in 2017-18, with statistical information courtesy of Corsica Hockey and the NHL and contract information provided by Cap Friendly:
58 games, six goals, 12 assists
$6 million cap hit, signed through 2021-22
Boychuk, 34, has seen his games played and his points decrease in each of his four seasons with the Islanders, and his 58 games represent the fewest he’s played in an 82-game NHL season since dressing for 51 games with the Bruins in 2009-10. Boychuk said after his exit interview that he needed surgery, though he did not specify his injury, which he said bothered him most of the season. He missed 18 games from Dec. 29 to Feb. 8 with a lower-body injury and he also dealt with an upper-body injury later in the season.
The Islanders still rely heavily on the veteran as a top-defenseman despite his lack of skating speed. His 20:12 of ice time ranked second on the team behind on-ice partner Nick Leddy. Half of his goals were game-winners, but his Corsi for percentage was a below-average 46.71.
15 games, one goal, one assist
$1.43 million cap hit, restricted free agent
The Islanders spent a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft to acquire Davidson from the Oilers on Feb. 24 after he started the season with the Canadiens. But Davidson, who turns 27 on Aug. 21 and is arbitration eligible, did not do much to convince the Islanders’ brass he can be relied on in a steady role if he returns next season.
At 6-2, 208 pounds, Davidson possesses good NHL size and he takes a hard shot from the point. But he may be running out of chances in the league.
Calvin de Haan
33 games, one goal, 11 assists
$3.3 million cap hit, unrestricted free agent
If de Haan, who turns 27 on May 9, does hit the free agent market as expected, it will be interesting to see what kind of deal he can secure. The 12th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft was one of the Islanders’ steadiest defensemen over the last two seasons and perhaps their best two-way blue-liner. Yet the shoulder injury that required surgery and ended his season on Dec. 16 was his third serious shoulder issue.
The Islanders were 18-12-3 when de Haan was injured and went 17-25-7 the rest of the way. While there were certainly other factors in the second-half collapse, de Haan’s absence was a major one. His departure wouldn’t be surprising, but the Islanders will be worse off if he’s gone.
69 games, five goals, 20 assists
$2.2 million cap hit, unrestricted free agent
The waiver pickup from the Kings in 2013 has turned into a steady performer in his five-plus seasons with the Islanders after a series of injuries left the fourth overall pick in 2007 wondering if he’d ever play in the NHL. Hickey also was a steadying presence in rookie Ryan Pulock’s development this season. And while the plus-minus rating has been made antiquated by advanced analytics, Hickey’s team-leading plus-20 is worth noting considering the Islanders’ overwhelming defensive issues.
Hickey matched his career high for assists and set a career high with 25 points. Still, it’s more than likely both sides will look to move on this offseason.
80 games, 10 goals, 32 assists
$5.5 million cap hit, signed through 2021-22
And speaking of the plus-minus statistic, there’s Leddy, 27, who has now surpassed 40 points in three straight seasons. Leddy was a mind-blowing minus-42 considering he compiled 42 points. It does show a thinness in the Islanders’ defense corps as Leddy, certainly solid offensively, was mainly used on a top pair with Boychuk and asked to play a team-high 22:25 per game and often against the opponent’s top line.
Leddy’s talents would be better used by slightly reducing his five-on-five minutes and not relying on him to try to be a defensive stopper.
Leddy did have four goals and 14 assists on the power play, but only had one goal and five assists over his last 22 games as the Islanders’ playoff hopes evaporated.
78 games, three goals, 16 assists
$1.6 million cap hit, signed through 2020-21
The Islanders clearly see the 6-3, 217-pound Pelech, who turns 24 on Aug. 16, as one of their foundation pieces. Pelech was protected in the expansion draft last offseason, then signed to a four-year, $6.4-million deal. He responded with career highs in games played and points as the Islanders’ coaching staff continues to try and improve his defensive technique.
Late in the season, he was paired with several partners, including Davidson, Dennis Seidenberg, Scott Mayfield and Ryan Pulock. He probably could benefit being in a steadier tandem.
Pelech did average a healthy 19:16 of ice time, and his Corsi for percentage of 48.18 was respectable within the team framework. But Pelech is like the rest of the Islanders’ defense: He must be better next season.
68 games, 10 goals, 22 assists
$863,333 cap hit, restricted free agent
Pulock’s development after being the 15th overall pick in 2013 can be seen as one of the season’s few bright spots, especially after playing all but one game in the AHL the previous season. The 6-2, 214-pound Pulock didn’t become a lineup regular until Dec. 1, and it was the marginal improvements in his defensive game that allowed the coaching staff to trust him with a regular role.
But Pulock’s real strength is his offensive game, and he gained a huge share of confidence when he set a franchise record for rookie defensemen with five points (one goal, four assists) in a 7-3 win at Chicago on Jan. 20. His two power-play goals in a 7-6 loss to the Lightning on March 22 also set a team mark for rookie defensemen.
Pulock, who turns 24 on Oct. 6, does not yet have arbitration rights, but given the deals the Islanders granted Pelech and Mayfield, it would be surprising if a longer-term deal is not worked out this offseason.
47 games, two goals, 10 assists
$1.45 million cap hit, signed through 2022-23
Mayfield, who turns 26 on Oct. 14 and was selected 34th overall in 2011, has been with the organization since 2012. But it was just this season that he finally cracked the NHL roster on a full-time basis. He certainly provided size (6-4, 227 pounds) but is not the most mobile defenseman and is not a candidate to play on the top pair, nor does he contribute on the power play. But the Islanders invested in him as part of their future with a five-year, $7.25-million extension that starts in 2018-19.
Mayfield’s progress this season was curtailed by a 22-game absence because of a broken leg from Feb. 8 to March 26 as the Islanders fell out of playoff contention.
28 games, five assists
$1.25 million cap hit, unrestricted free agent
Seidenberg was a very serviceable pickup for 2016-17 after the Bruins bought out the final two seasons of his four-year, $16-million deal. He totaled five goals and 17 assists in 73 games. But while the veteran, who turns 37 on July 18, provided leadership for the younger defensemen, age seemed to catch up to his game on the ice this season as he often lacked the speed to deter onrushing forwards.
Seidenberg indicated after the season he wishes to continue playing. That almost certainly will not happen with the Islanders. Seidenberg, from Germany, may have to continue his career in Europe.
IN THE PIPELINE
22 games, one goal, three assists
$770,000 cap hit, signed through 2019-20
Aho, 22, got a taste of the NHL in his first North American season after the Swede was selected in the fifth round in 2017. At 5-10, 170 pounds, Aho still is adjusting to the smaller North American rinks and the more physical style of play. But he’ll come to training camp with a chance to earn a roster spot.
30 games (Bridgeport, AHL), eight goals, 14 assists
$925,000 cap hit, restricted free agent
It remains to be seen how much the season-ending shoulder injury Toews, 24, suffered in January slows his development. He was expected to compete for a top-four role with the Islanders in 2018-19.
Mitchell Vande Sompel
58 games (Bridgeport, AHL), seven goals, 22 assists
$728,333 cap hit, signed through 2019-20
The 21-year-old Vande Sompel, a third-round pick in 2015, probably put himself in position to compete for a roster spot out of training camp after being named an AHL All-Star in his first professional season.
50 games (Bridgeport, AHL), seven goals, 10 assists
$732,500 cap hit, signed through 2019-20
The 6-foot, 171-pound Wotherspoon, who turns 21 on Aug. 24, impressed the organization’s talent evaluators with his first full professional season but still likely needs more seasoning in the AHL