It was expected that the New York Islanders and the rest of the NHL would be relatively quiet on Friday, with so many trades coming through in the days leading up to the 3 PM NHL Trade Deadline.
The Islanders needed forward help a few months ago, with general manager Lou Lamoriello acquiring Bo Horvat. As the injuries to the forward group continued to pile up, he went out and brought in Pierre Engvall for support.
Horvat, who was extended for eight seasons, has been a difference-maker for New York, while Engvall has yet to skate in a game, but his skating ability should help, help, counteract the loss of Barzal’s speed, especially alongside Horvat and Anders Lee.
All that was left for Lamoriello was to bring in a defenseman to help a young Noah Dobson, as Sebastian Aho hasn’t been helping the cause.
But as the deadline came and went, Lamoriello didn’t pull the trigger, despite a plethora of options.
Sources had told NYI Hockey Now leading up to the deadline, that Lamoriello was actively looking for defense.
Names like Dmitry Kulikov, Shayne Gostisbehere, John Klingberg, and others were thrown out there and were dealt, but no dice for Long Island.
Over the last week, over 14 NHL defensemen were traded, and besides a few with high price tags like Mattias Ekholm and Jacob Chychrun, the assets needed to acquire those other depth defenseman wasn’t too high.
One that stands out is Shayne Gostisbehere, who went from the Arizona Coyotes to the Carolina Hurricanes for a 2026 third-round selection.
The Islanders also did have north of $6 million in cap space to bring someone in.
The backend has been an issue from the get-go, as the Islanders entered camp with two question marks, one being the sixth and final spot alongside Scott Mayfield and the other being who would be the seventh defenseman.
Sebastian Aho, who has become a staple alongside Noah Dobson for a bit here, did not win the sixth spot out of camp, serving as the seventh defenseman for the first four games of the season.
Robin Salo won the job, but after four games of up-and-down play, Aho got the chance and has had it ever since.
But Aho, while looking stronger than he had in previous years, has struggled defensively, and it has not made life for Dobson easy, especially with Dobson dealing with his own struggles.
In their short sample sizes, Parker Wotherspoon and Samuel Bolduc had shown to be more reliable options in terms of what they bring on the defensive side of the puck.
Bolduc played six games before being sent down to Bridgeport, while Wotherspoon has been a healthy scratch since Jan. 21, serving as the seventh guy.
The old saying goes, “defense wins championships.” Right now, the Islanders top two pairings of Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield and Alexander Romanov and Ryan Pulock have played exceptionally well.
It’s just that bottom pairing that needs work.
Aho and Dobson remained defense partners at practice on Friday, and there’s no real reason to think that that won’t remain the case going forward.
The situation seems similar to the one that current head coach Lane Lambert wrestled with earlier in the season with Mathew Barzal. It seemed more important to bring balance to the rest of the lineup rather than stockpile a player like Brock Nelson on his wing to help his line out.
Whether Lamoriello tried to bring in a defenseman and couldn’t or felt comfortable with what he has, who knows?
But now it’s on Lambert and the players, specifically Sebastian Aho and Noah Dobson, to figure it out as the New York Islanders playoff push continues Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings.
The Islanders have 18 games remaining on their schedule andhold the second wild-card spot with 70 points in 65 games.
Islanders Move Forward After Deadline, ‘We Know What We Have To Do’