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Nick Leddy the latest to buy into New York Islanders culture

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Just imagine how impressive the beard will be after seven years of growth.
Just imagine how impressive the beard will be after seven years of growth.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Of course he's going to say it when the team signs him to a seven-year contract, but then again, that is why he was willing to sign a seven-year contract: Nick Leddy buys into what the New York Islanders are selling.

(Yes, the Islanders are also handsomely "buying" into Leddy to the price of $38.5 million, give or take an escrow here, a loonie plummet there.)

By philosophy or by necessity, or both, general manager Garth Snow and the rest of the Isles brass have cultivated a tight, close-knit team culture where players have largely believed in the direction of the franchise even as external media -- and often, the team's own fanbase -- routinely viewed so much of what they've done with derision.

It's part an "us against the world" mentality, minus the conspiratorial paranoia nor the public rants other team executives sometimes deliver "to show they care." The Isles are generally quiet about their approach to team culture -- publicly, Snow is quiet about most things -- but you hear it come out in comments from the team's core players all the time.

Usually when you hear about a team having "good chemistry," the easy rebuttal from the skeptic is, "Well sure, winning teams have chemistry, losing teams don't."

But the Isles had it even when they weren't winning, when they were in the bottom 10 to bottom five of the standings. How they nurtured it is now paying dividends, as the players who have improved them also want to stick around to see it through, and that atmosphere has retained one very important new addition in Leddy.

Here is one of the many quotes from the soft-spoken defenseman in the wake of his seven-year, $38.5 million contract extension:

"The guys in the locker room are awesome guys. I see a winning group here," Leddy said after a 5-1 win in which he was plus-2. "I could tell right away when I first got traded here, they opened up their arms and welcomed me right in. It's a good feeling.

"We've got a lot of young guys, a lot of good skill, a lot of hard-working guys. When we play to our system, we're a hard team to beat," he said.

That's really the short of it: Through a long post-Milbury rebuild the Isles have accumulated lots of young talent, and this year they are consistently playing to a system that makes them hard to beat.

Some of that young talent is about to get more expensive -- convenient as they move into the higher-revenue Brooklyn setting next season. But leading up to this moment, they've managed to keep costs down while offering players a place they are happy to call home.

From analysis of the Leddy contract by Jonathan Willis:

Certainly the strategy has paid dividends for New York, as a quick glance at NHL Numbers makes clear. Leddy joins John Tavares, Josh Bailey and Travis Hamonic as young players signed for at least three more years after this one. The combined annual bill for that quartet is just a shade over $18 million, which is pretty reasonable for a franchise centre, two top-three defencemen and a winger with 30 points in 49 games this season.

There have been plenty of other examples along the way, too. Kyle Okposo is in the fourth year of a five-season deal with a $2.8 million cap hit. Frans Nielsen is in the third year of a four-year deal that pays him even less, a deal he signed after completing a previous four-year deal with a $525,000 cap hit which made him probably the best bargain player in the NHL. A team willing to risk term can gain a lot, as long as it’s risking it on a solid player.

The day John Tavares signed an extension was an important symbol for this formula, as well as an important moment in cost control.

The emerging harvest comes at a time when the salary cap ceiling looks like it will temporarily pause its annual leaps next year, meaning the Isles are well positioned while many other good teams are squeezed by the cap.

Sean Gentille in the Sporting News:

In short, Leddy [has] been exactly what GM Garth Snow hoped he'd be; after years of negotiating the salary cap floor out of necessity, Snow used that space to import a top pairing from Chicago and Boston on the cheap days before the season started. Voila — the Isles had what they needed.

While the October trades indeed felt like a "voila!", the rest of this has been a long time coming. The Isles have been cultivating a certain kind of environment in hopes of this day arriving, where many long-term efforts come together. Now they get to enjoy the dividends.