Not to be outdone by the previous era, the new regime in charge of the New York Islanders is constructing the best fifth line in hockey.
The latest move for the bottom of the lineup was a trade to bring back Matt Martin from the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is a low-cost deal, with ECHL/AHL goaltender Eamon McAdam going the other way and with Martin’s contract requiring less payout in the second half of the four-year deal the Leafs gave him to leave the Isles in the first place.
Martin is a great guy, a fan favorite, great in the community, former member of the “best fourth line in hockey” and still bleeds orange along with the blue (click on the Instagram link below to feel that in absolute full force).
Extremely excited to be coming back to @ny_islanders. Most athletes don’t get the opportunity to return to a team that they love. I am blessed and grateful to have that opportunity to wear the orange and blue sweater once again and can’t wait for this opportunity. Long Island has always had a special place in my heart, and it sure does feel good to be back! #YesYesYes
But the move clears $2.5 million in cap hit for the Leafs, who are widely believed to be pursuing Islanders free agent defenseman Calvin de Haan. If in this trade the Islanders are helping the Leafs create more space to land de Haan, so help me Bossy...
Could they have just brought back Martin (nostalgia, still OK on the fourth line, beloved fan favorite) and not done the other things though?
An "ecstatic" Matt Martin on trade to #Isles: "Coming back to the Islanders is exciting for me. In my heart, I was hoping for this. I love Long Island, it's always had a special place in my heart. In Toronto, I was still very much in touch with what was going on on Long Island."— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) July 3, 2018
Because combine this with the signings of the Leo Komarov and the declining Valtteri Filppula and the fourth-line-at-best Tom Kuhnhackl, and I can’t for the life of me imagine what the new braintrust is thinking as it constructs a bottom six (or nine?) made out of bottom three material. I’m aware of no theory of team construction this side of Don Cherry that would support this approach, in this quantity.
It’s as if Lou Lamoriello is constructing the 1998 expansion Predators for Barry Trotz to lead.
Imagine making four acquisitions, each of which is worse than adding a random, replacement level player.— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) July 3, 2018
Sum total = -1.53 wins https://t.co/nZ45HRGVCf
Even for those disregarding or suspicious of #fancystats, you’d have to acknowledge that the Islanders already have players like this and in fact the surplus and term commitment to such players is why they are where they are.
If I’m being charitable, Casey Cizikas is good enough (and sometimes used) for more of a third-center role, and Cal Clutterbuck used to be third-line level before they were kind of treated as strictly defensive “don’t even think about scoring” types. Maybe Trotz sees a different way to deploy, and this allows his fallbacks to be Komarov and Filppula instead of Alan Quine and Stephen Gionta. Maybe.
Or perhaps they are stockpiling bodies for a trade to be made, like a trade for an actual top-of-the-lineup player. I’m a “benefit of the doubt, its early” kind of person, so I’m trying to understand the new regime.
But already those benefits are under duress.