There's a lot of talk at times about the Islanders being extremely flawed on D and that the failure to address it by Garth Snow will be an extreme limiting factor. This has especially been the case from outside commentators.
Yet, like a lot of typical mainstream talk about the Islanders, a closer look would suggest that the concerns about the Islanders' D is massively overblown. Take a look at how many shots the Islanders allowed. In Close situations (Game within 1 goal through the first two periods or tied in the third period) at 5v5, the Islanders were 18th in shots allowed per 60. Basically middle of the pack. This is despite the team whose 3rd most used D Man all year was Andrew Macdonald (who naturally allowed some of the most shots/60 of any player on the team) and that Lubomir Visnovsky, one of our best d-men was out over half of the year.
During the lockout season in fact, the Isles were SIXTH in shots against per 60 in 5v5 close situations. SIXTH!
Not even going into corsi, if you're just looking at shots against, the Isles had 5 D Men De Haan (the leader by a mile), Hamonic, Visnovsky, Donovan, Hickey who had fewer than 29 shots per 60 against in these situations - which essentially means 5 guys who allowed the average # of shots or better. With Andrew MacDonald gone, and Brian Strait likely minimized, the Isles D should once again be in the upper half, if not better in shots allowed. Quite simply put, the Isles D isn't bad outside of a few players (AMac, Strait, Carkner).
Donovan of course, is rumored to be traded, with the arrival of Griffin Reinhart, Kevin Czuczman, Ryan Pulock, and Ville Pokka to the professional ranks. But even then the Isles trade Donovan, they have four D men who are at least average or better in Hickey, Visnovsky, deHaan, and Hamonic, IF THEY CAN STAY HEALTHY. (And TJ Brennan is another possible useful defender, albeit with sheltering)
That health concern, plus Lubo's age and just depth reasons, is why trading one of our excess forwards for another good D isn't unreasonable. Plus it allows us to take some time with the kids. But who should the Isles target and who is available? Let's look at some of the bandied about names:
Franson is the one guy we know for SURE is on the market, as the Leafs attempted to trade him for Josh Gorges. Franson is an RFA right now with 1 year till Unrestricted Free Agency, but as an RFA, negotiating a reasonable multi year deal is certainly possible for the Isles, which should be appealing in any trade. In addition, he's a right handed D, which is really helpful for the Isles (whose only RHD last year were Hamonic, Carkner, and Radek).
He also seems like a pretty solid D, despite some complaints about him sacrificing defense for offense. Franson has had a positive relative corsi for three straight years despite not heavy sheltering. Some of this is Jake Gardiner, but over the last three years, both Gardiner and Franson do worse away from each other, suggesting that Franson is driving at least some of the bus. In other words, Franson is definitely a positive possession player, and he's middle of the pack in Toronto in terms of shots allowed.
Toronto is trying to trade him because of him having slightly bad luck a year after having really good luck. That good luck last year resulted in 29 points in 45 games for Franson during the lockout year, which is a rate he couldn't sustain. But even at a more reasonable rate of scoring, Franson managed 33 points last year, and that's with very limited offensive zone starts. So he brings offense in addition to defense.
Is he attainable? Well Toronto was trying to trade him, albeit for a tough d man. Toronto needs a C badly as well, which makes one wonder if the Isles could pitch Josh Bailey and one of its grittier forwards (Martin, CMac?) as a way to get him. A deal here SHOULD be possible (the team might have to retain some salary to make sure it is), but the Toronto front office's rationality is often very questionable, so who knows. Regardless, he's a guy the Isles should want, who would definitely be a top 4 guy who could be had for a few years.
Jeff Petry was the Oilers shutdown D Man the last few years and is rumored to be on the block now that the Oilers have acquired Mark Fayne and Nikita Nikitin (and the Oilers have need at Center). Like Franson he's a right shot, and like Franson, he's an RFA, so he should appeal to the Islanders as a guy they could keep for a few years if they can get a multi year contract out of him.
But how good is he? This is a little trickier than Franson. Petry doesn't produce many points (around 20 per year with little power play time) so his value will be defensive and possession based. He's been a plus possession player two of the last three years with both positive years being in slightly tougher than average zone starts. Oddly his one year with slightly better than average zone starts he had the worst possession #s, although some of that can be attributed to him playing alongside tire fire Ladislav Smid (the Oilers' version of AMac).
Again this is tricky - this year's good #s came in decent part thanks to rookie Martin Marincin who seems really good, but even without him, Petry seemed to make players better on the Oilers. As a third pair D man, he's certainly a good option, although a lower choice than Franson.
Can the Isles acquire him? Well, like Toronto, the Oilers are looking for a C and their management is hard to predict. Could Josh Bailey be marketed as such? Maybe. It seems like the fit is a bit harder here than in Toronto.
Boychuk is another Right Handed D who might be available. However, it's less clear that he's available than Petry or Franson. The reasons people think he may be available are that: 1. Boston is basically at the cap with multiple restricted free agents needing to sign; 2. Boychuk is in the last year of his contract and will be a UFA anyhow next year. Of course, that last reason is one why the Isles should have lesser interest in Boychuk than some other guys (like the above guys) who the team could have more control over.
Again like Petry, it's not quite clear HOW good he is. He provides even less offense than Petry (although that's probably due to a lack of power play time) so again, his value will come entirely from defense/possession and again, he's positive relative to his team two of the last three years. Now a player being positive rest to the rest of the Bruins is more impressive than the OILERS, so take that for what it's worth, but some of Boychuk's better #s are Chara based. Still, Boychuk was good with Matt Bartkowski as well, so he's at least decent. He's no Andrew Ference, who was really lousy relative to the rest of Boston.
Is he attainable? Well this is trickier than the other two guys: Boston is in cap trouble, so a trade of Bailey, even retaining salary, isn't as appealing to them, especially as he's a bottom 6-er for Boston at best. A trade of kids would be more appealing, but aside from Donovan + good picks in 2016 (the team lacks good picks next year), it's hard to see what we could offer that others couldn't beat. Boychuk is probably a bit of a dream for this reason.
Wiercioch, unlike the three guys above, shoots left - and the Isles have a glut of LHD (although he could switch sides). Of course he's also both 6'4" and only 23, so he's still very young, is under contract for cheap for two more years, and then is an RFA after that. His name has come up in trade speculation because the Sens scratched him repeatedly for mediocre D-Men last year and the Sens are trying to be as close to the floor as possible.
Wiercioch is really interesting. He's been on pace for 30 points in a full season each of his last two years (but didn't play a full season either time), and has been positive relative to the Sens both years, with corsi %s above 53% each time! Weircoch's good possession #s come with cushy sheltered minutes, but they're relative to his team and that team includes freaking Erik Karlsson, with whom he's never played. This year his possession #s dropped off, but he was covering for lousy D men like Jared Cowen or Eric Gryba. And at 23, unlike the other guys, Wiercioch could possibly still get better.
Course, trading for Wiercioch would be more difficult than the above. While Ottawa HAS cap space, they're on an internal budget which is as low as possible. So Bailey's backloaded contract is probably not that appealing, even with the Isles retaining salary. They do seem to not value Wiercioch very much for some strange reason, so maybe he's attainable for some lesser assets. If Matt Donovan is to be traded, a Donovan-Wiercioch swap isn't unreasonable or out of the question. Course that does nothing about the forward depth.
In short there's a bunch of targets out there rumored to be or on the block to improve the Isles D. The Isles D will be just fine as it is, but there's an advantage to be taken here.