The New York Islanders’ offseason has been quiet and could involve some minor moves, but not much else. This especially applies to the defensive unit, which enters next season as one of the best in the NHL. After Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Lou Lamoriello acquired Alexander Romanov of the Montreal Canadiens, the only question left for the unit is, who will play alongside Scott Mayfield?
Related: 3 Islanders Who Can Play Alongside Scott Mayfield
Lamoriello could fill the need internally and will likely have a prospect alongside Mayfield to start the season. However, the option of adding a player in free agency remains a slight possibility for the Islanders. PK Subban is one of the few remaining unsigned players and would be an intriguing addition to the squad.
Subban’s 13-year career has been a rollercoaster with many ups and downs. His newest team, the New Jersey Devils, had a tough game that left a bad impression of what he could bring to the ice. However, if used correctly, it would be a good fit for the Islanders, a team looking to bounce back next season and compete for the Stanley Cup.
Subban as later pair option
The Islanders need a defenseman who can lighten the load on their best skaters and just add depth. Subban in a limited role is exactly what the team needs. At his peak, he averaged 22 minutes or more of ice time as his best pairing option, but last season with the Devils was indicative of what his role will be on any team going forward. In 2021-22, he averaged just 18:18, the lowest of his career as he fell back in the unit, which is expected to continue for the rest of his career.
Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech will be the Islanders’ best couple and will occupy the top minutes every night. Meanwhile, Noah Dobson will likely take on a bigger role and, alongside Romanov, form a powerful young duo. That would leave Subban playing on the third pair alongside Mayfield in a limited role with minimal shorthanded minutes as well.
Last year, the Islanders’ defensive errors came largely from the roles of Zdeno Chara, who was signed before the season, and Andy Greene, two of the NHL’s oldest skaters who played a significant role in the unit. Adding Subban will bring a lot of positives, but especially if first-year head coach Lane Lambert avoids overworking him and playing him in an overwhelming number of shifts.
Islanders add point
The bonus for Islanders acquiring Subban is his shot from the blue line. The veteran skater has one of the hardest slap shots in the game and can both find the back of the net from the point and open the ice for the team in the offensive zone, creating scoring opportunities close to 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 power play point as two of the best offensive defensemen on the team. These two will be in the best position to add to the offensive zone and create scoring opportunities for the team, and Pulock and Dobson will rack up the points accordingly. However, there will still be plenty of opportunities for Subban to find opportunities in the offensive zone and generate net shots from the point to optimize his skills.
Along with offensive contributions, Subban would also add a hard-hitting dimension to defense. Acquiring Romanov already gives the Islanders a defenseman who can take opponents off the puck on one hit, but Subban would give the team a variety of defensemen across the unit. The new look would force opponents to navigate different looks each shift, giving the Islanders a distinct advantage. However, this skill set has its price, especially for a veteran who is in the twilight of his career.
Subban is slower
The main 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 net as they allowed just 2.82 goals per game, seventh-best in the league. Unfortunately, they struggled to move the puck out of the defensive zone and into the offensive zone, which ultimately set the Islanders back throughout the season and resulted in the dismissal of head coach Barry Trotz.
Adding a slower 33-year-old Subban would be a non-starter in that spirit. He won the Norris Trophy in the 2012-13 season and was a runner-up as recently as the 2017-18 season and in his prime he was one of the best two-way defenders in the game. But at this point in his career, the veteran lost a step. For the Islanders, it could cost them yet again if he becomes a liability in the neutral zone and in the rush defense.
Subban plays on the right side
Another issue is position, as the Islanders are looking for a partner for Mayfield, which means adding another defender on the left side. The problem with Subban is that he plays on 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 that would be an adjustment and could cost the Islanders dearly. Even in a limited role, the change would leave him in an awkward position and allow opponents to find scoring opportunities, especially at the start of the season. Considering the team has prospects like Robin Salo and Samuel Bolduc eager to make an impact at the NHL level, the risk of starting one of them on the left side would be better than a veteran in that position.
Why would the Islanders sign Subban?
The strong argument for signing Subban is if Lamoriello can do it on a team-friendly contract. Part of the problem with the Devils is that he was paid as an elite defenseman, but the production was not at that level. Instead, the Islanders bringing him on a cheaper contract and in a limited role would leave the signing as a lower risk signing.
Subban would also be a mentor and provide a veteran presence to an otherwise young unit. Granted, a lot of defensive players have plenty of regular-season and playoff experience, but for Dobson, Romanov and any prospects who make it to the NHL roster, he would be a leader. What’s more, he’s also a valuable player to have on the team, both in the locker room and off the ice, something he saw first hand last season when he won the King Clancy Award.
The Islanders are looking to win the Stanley Cup, and adding a player as a missing piece could put them over the top. Subban might not be the missing player that comes to mind, but if used correctly he should improve the roster considerably going 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 as a whole and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thinks for more Islanders and general hockey information.