The New York Islanders’ offseason has been a quiet one that might involve a few minor moves but not much else otherwise. This particularly applies to the defensive unit, which enters next season as one of the best in the NHL. After general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello acquired Alexander Romanov from the Montreal Canadiens, the only question left on the unit is, who will play alongside Scott Mayfield?
Lamoriello could address the need internally and will likely have a prospect alongside Mayfield to start the season. However, the option to add a player in free agency is still a slight possibility for the Islanders. P.K. Subban is one of the few remaining unsigned players and would be an intriguing addition to the team.
Subban’s 13-year career has been a roller coaster one with plenty of highs and lows. His most recent team, the New Jersey Devils, was a difficult match that left a bad impression of what he could contribute on the ice. However, if he is used correctly, he would be a good fit with the Islanders, a team looking to bounce back next season and compete for the Stanley Cup.
Subban as a Later Pair Option
The Islanders need a defenseman that can take the workload off their top skaters and simply add depth. Subban in a limited role is just what the team needs. In his prime, he averaged 22 minutes or more of ice time as a top pairing option, but last season with the Devils was indicative of what his role will be on any team moving forward. In 2021-22, he averaged only 18:18, the lowest of his career as he took a step back on the unit, something that looks to continue for the remainder of his career.
Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech will be the Islanders’ top pairing and will take up the primary minutes on a nightly basis. Meanwhile, Noah Dobson will likely take on a larger role and, alongside Romanov, form a potent young duo. This would leave Subban playing on the third pairing alongside Mayfield in a limited role with minimal minutes on the penalty kill as well.
Last year, the Islanders’ mistakes defensively came largely from the roles both Zdeno Chara, who was signed before the season, and Andy Greene, two of the oldest skaters in the NHL who played significant roles in the unit. Adding Subban will provide plenty of positives but mainly if first-year head coach Lane Lambert avoids overworking him and playing him in an overwhelming number of shifts.
Islanders Add From the Point
The bonus for the Islanders acquiring Subban is his shot from the blue line. The veteran skater has one of the hardest slapshots in the game and can both find the back of the net from the point and open up the ice for the team in the offensive zone, creating scoring chances near the net. Even in a limited role, he scored five goals and added 17 assists last season for the Devils, proving he remains a viable offensive threat.
Next season, the Islanders will likely rely on Pulock and Dobson to play the point on the power play as two of the best offensive defensemen on the team. Those two will be in the best position to add to the offensive zone and create scoring chances for the team, and both Pulock and Dobson will pile on the points as a result. However, there will still be plenty of opportunities for Subban to find opportunities in the offensive zone and generate shots on the net from the point to optimize his skillset.
Aside from the offensive contributions, Subban would also add a hard-hitting dimension to the defense. The Romanov acquisition already gives the Islanders a blueliner that can remove opponents from the puck with a hit, but Subban would give the team a variety of defensemen throughout the unit. The new look would force opponents to navigate different looks from each shift, giving the Islanders a distinct advantage. However, that skill set comes with its costs, specifically for a veteran that is in the twilight of his career.
Subban Is Slower
The primary woes of the Islanders’ defense last year were its age and speed, as it was both older and slower than in previous seasons. The team held up well in their zone, creating turnovers and limiting shots on the net as they only allowed 2.82 goals per game, the seventh best in the league. Unfortunately, they struggled to move the puck out of the defensive zone and into the offensive zone, ultimately setting the Islanders back throughout the season and resulting in head coach Barry Trotz’s firing.
Adding a 33-year-old, slower Subban would be a non-starter with this in mind. He won the Norris Trophy in the 2012-13 season and was a finalist as recently as the 2017-18 season and in his prime, he was one of the best two-way defensemen in the game. But at this point in his career, the veteran has lost a step. For the Islanders, this could once again cost them if he becomes a liability in the neutral zone and in defending the rush.
Subban Plays the Right Side
Another issue is the position, as the Islanders are looking for a partner for Mayfield, implying that they add another left-side defenseman. The problem with Subban is that he plays the right side and has done so throughout his career. Adding him would leave the Islanders with more than enough players to play on that side of the unit with Mayfield, Pulock, and Dobson already on the roster.
Subban can switch to the left side, but it would be an adjustment and could cost the Islanders. Even in a limited role, the switch would leave him in an uncomfortable position and allow opponents to find scoring chances, especially early on in the season. Considering the team has prospects like Robin Salo and Samuel Bolduc eager to make an impact at an NHL level, the risk of starting one of them on the left side would be preferable over a veteran at the position.
Why Would the Islanders Sign Subban?
The strong argument for signing Subban is if Lamoriello can do so on a team-friendly contract. Part of the issue with the Devils is that he was being paid like an elite defenseman, but the production wasn’t at that level. Instead, the Islanders bringing him in on a cheaper contract and in a limited role would leave the signing as a lower-risk one.
Subban would also be a mentor and provide a veteran presence to an otherwise young unit. Granted, a lot of the players on the defense have plenty of experience both in the regular season and the playoffs, but for Dobson, Romanov, and any prospects that reach the NHL roster, he’d be a leader. Furthermore, he is also a valuable player to have on the team both in the locker room and off the ice, something seen firsthand last season when he won the King Clancy Award.
The Islanders are looking to win the Stanley Cup, and adding that one player as the missing piece could put them over the top. Subban might not be the missing player that comes to mind, but if he’s used correctly, he should significantly improve the roster moving forward.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.