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Mayfield injury deepens Islanders defense woes, which were bad even before all this

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Out an expected minimum four weeks, the latest injury makes the blueline even thinner for a team already bleeding goals.

New York Islanders v Arizona Coyotes
Picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The New York Islanders began the season with eight defensemen on one-way NHL contracts and two more “on the cusp” prospects waiting in the wings. They no doubt thought that crowded group at least created good injury insurance.

Alas. Now Scott Mayfield’s injury, putting him out an expected four weeks, leaves them with two of those 10 blueliners out for the season, another top-four mainstay out since December, and the team now in position to depend on 36-going-on-42-year-old Dennis Seidenberg (20 games played thus far) for regular duty as they head into a traveling back-to-back set Thursday and Friday.

As a bonus, the third prospect in line was injured in Bridgeport’s Wednesday day game.

This is normally where one would say “gosh, the best-laid plans...” but many tortured Isles fans would not call this season’s approach “best plans” in any sense of the phrase.

Granted, the Islanders’ decision to keep eight defensemen on the opening night roster was motivated in part by maintaining depth for just such an emergency: Mayfield and fellow Bridgeport graduate AHL Adam Pelech were no longer waiver-exempt, so the team feared losing them and indeed values each enough to extend long-term contracts this year.

So they kept both and, well, it’s admittedly hard to find an NHL defenseman who’s cool with spot duty yet whose “development” isn’t hindered by extended stretches as a healthy scratch. Thus, the controversial re-signing of Seidenberg after he played 73 games for the Isles last season.

I’m Trying to Forget These Decisions and Focus on Today. How Am I Doing?

There appeared to be other options, but they went with the familiar. They’ve used him less than I expected yet still more than I would like.

Regardless, this isn’t about re-litigating that issue. (Nor is it about the puzzling decision to join 30 other teams in passing on Cody Franson when he went on waivers last month.) Those are maddening but must now be considered, to modify a phrase, sunk mistakes.

(Meanwhile, general manager Garth Snow gave Newsday a couple of quotes that will be burned in effigy by irate Isles fans:

Snow did point to injuries as being “one hundred percent’’ the reason why the Islanders are in a precarious position for the playoffs. “Not making excuses, I’m stating a fact,’’ he said referring to season-ending injuries to Calvin de Haan and highly regarded prospect Devon Toews.

Aside: Those injuries hurt, no question. And yes, the Beauty of Barzal is such that they probably would have five or so more points if they had maintained 100% health, unlike any team in the history of ever. I was high on de Haan and Toews, who I’d hoped would make the opening roster but then good health and waivers and {SEIDENBERG!} prevented that.

Still, the Islanders are perennially damned not by the decent acquisitions and decisions that get them in the playoff picture, but by the failure to make additional acquisitions and decisions that would push them to the playoffs’ later months.

They always seem to think, “Where we are is pretty good, and that’s good enough ‘cause we like our group.” They could very well make the playoffs this year, and I’ve long expected and still kind of expect them to, but only at the level of first-round cannon fodder.

It’s like...forget for a moment that John Tavares faces the Decision this year and a bad season could impact his decision the wrong way. You still have the more karmically egregious matter of this season wasting another year of his prime.

(Not Doing That Well Letting This Go. Let’s Try Again)

...Anyway, the here and now is this: The Islanders are already in a two-plus month stretch of mind-boggling porous defense, a spiral that loosely coincided with Calvin de Haan being lost for the season in early December. It was made worse by the late December injury to Johnny Boychuk, who though aging and injury-prone, is still a key piece of the puzzle when things are going right.

The blows kept coming when top blueline prospect Devon Toews was lost to a season-ending shoulder injury, right before he would have been called up when Boychuk went down. Called up in his stead, Sebastian Aho has had his moments but has also looked like a defenseman who is learning on the job. (Again, that’s okay. Seidenberg’s results have been worse, more “can’t teach an old dog on the job.”)

No way of knowing if he’d be an answer, but the next upside prospect in line after Toews and Aho is Mitch Vande Sompel, who...oops:

So here we are with Seidenberg, who by every possession measure — shots for and against, chances for and against, even goals — has been the worst Islander, hovering around 40 percent on-ice measures in those categories.

Granted, Mayfield has actually had a bad month — I know, I know, which non-Barzal/Halak Islander hasn’t? — and the team’s overall ability to display a defensive conscience has been mostly a dream. So who knows? Maybe Seidenberg finds a second wind and a new Jurcina Anomaly occurs at just the right time to coincide with some wins and an ill-informed decision to extend another regrettable contract.

Boychuk has been skating regularly but some complication is keeping him from returning, to the point that coach Doug Weight is tired of answering questions about the veteran.

So the Islanders, right in the Metro’s crazy playoff bubble, enter a busy and crucial with Nick Leddy (who has looked overworked lately), Ryan Pulock, the green Aho, Pelech, Thomas Hickey (having an off year thus far) and Seidenberg as their only healthy NHL blueliners.

(My one realistic hope from all this is that Pulock is thrust by force in to a bigger role, shines, and proves them unreasonably over-cautious with him.)

They have a back-to-back against beatable Atlantic stragglers the Sabres and Red Wings. Then the speedy Flames visit Sunday night. And next week features Metro foes Columbus and a back-to-back against the Rangers and Hurricanes.

That’s a pivotal six-games-in-nine-days stretch of the season, with the Islanders blueline stretched to its thinnest point in years. Did we already mention the team gives up the most goals and shots against in the league?