The New York Islanders had been shut out for two straight games, so it was clearly time for some changes. That explains why Lou Lamoriello went out and traded for a defenseman.
Wait, a defenseman?!
Okay, so it wasn’t exactly what the masses wanted. Or maybe expected. But that’s what happened when the Islanders traded a 2021 2nd-round pick and David Quenneville to the New Jersey Devils for Andy Greene.
Greene, 37, is in the final year of his contract: a 5-year, $5 million per year deal, of which the Islanders will be liable for $1.3 million through the end of this season. He’s spent his entire career with the Devils and had to waive a no-trade clause to come to the Island.
Yes, you read that correctly. A player waived a no-trade clause to play for the New York Islanders.
Perhaps that’s the result of 18 months of now sustained success in the standings, which includes playoff series sweep over the highly regarded Pittsburgh Penguins. Perhaps it’s because a Tri-State area lifer (at least, NHL wise) won’t have to move that far for a chance to likely get the taste of the playoffs again, with a GM he knows well. Perhaps it’s a combination of both. Either way, it’s a thing that happened.
Analytically, Greene remains a pretty solid defender. He will never be confused as an offensive guru, but he’s as steady as ever defensively.
He’s also a very strong penalty killer, which certainly is a worthwhile trait for a guy that’s averaged 20 minutes of ice time every season but once since 2009-10. Either way, that’s not what this piece is about. Greene is a projectable player - the Islanders surely know exactly what they are going to get from him over the next 25 games. This piece aims to look at the implications of making such a deal.
When the Islanders lost Adam Pelech for the season at the beginning of January, Barry Trotz did his best to use what he had. As Arthur Staple wrote in The Athletic, it was clear fairly quickly that with Noah Dobson getting substantially less ice time, over time it was starting to wear down the other backs on the team.
This will be part of my @LHHockey writeup on the Andy Greene trade, but look at Nick Leddy vs. Devon Toews TOI vs. xGF metrics pre/post-Pelech injury. Toews has really stepped up, as we'd hoped, but Leddy's struggles with more ice time really paved the way for the Greene need. pic.twitter.com/33XyQcSPVV— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) February 18, 2020
This was having an especially profound impact on Nick Leddy. Despite an admirable effort, his game has seemed ill-equipped to handle such an increase in responsibility at this point. Because there were only two left-handed defenseman playing each game, Leddy’s struggles may have accentuated the need for an external acquisition.
While it is completely reasonable to identify that the Isles’ scoring issues are the paramount problem on the team, it’s equally so to argue that defense had not become a problem post-Pelech’s injury. This trade, despite being a bit costly, makes sense given the following three points:
1. This should be a signal that Lamoriello is willing to be more aggressive with this roster. The Islanders, despite their recent losing streak, are still in a pretty advantageous place in terms of making the playoffs. Supplementing the forward group after moving a second to fill a need only feels logical, and could give the Islanders the scoring talent they need to qualify for their second straight playoff appearance.
It's notable that the #Isles and #Devils usage of Adam Pelech and Andy Greene, respectively, are not that dissimilar. The Isles have more leads so there is additive context, but both guys get used a lot and in higher leverage situations defensively. pic.twitter.com/YZi8ObASoc— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) February 17, 2020
2. Because of that, treating the lineup implications as a straight-forward Greene for Dobson switch is misguided. Greene played a very similar role for the Devils as Pelech did for the Islanders, so the trade needs to be more examined in that light than Dobson’s role.
3. There’s an opportunity cost involved when it comes to ice time. Pelech’s minutes needed to be replaced by a lot of different people, especially with the Islanders (correctly) developing Dobson at a pace catered to him. That left about seven minutes a night to be divided up accordingly, which is… a lot, especially over the course of 20 games.
On top of that, the team can (finally) revert back to distinct pairings. They had been playing with 5 defensemen for so long that pairings were loose and inconsistent, which hurts “repeatability” in the game. That’s led to some obvious defensive gaffes, some of them coming at poor times.
Continuity is so key, especially as the game moves faster than ever. Players need to have an implicit understanding of where their teammates are at all times. This should create some “certainty” back into the flow of the game, which should only help.
At the end of the day, the gains from this trade are not going to “wow” the masses. But it was a necessary transaction given the fallout from Adam Pelech’s injury even if the cost of doing business was a little elevated.