Every week of the 2018-19 season, our Rob Taub will discuss one player from the Islanders to look out for. Whether it’s past performances, certain matchups, or something about that player that makes worth spotlighting, each article will describe why they are being featured. Also — if one or two players, or the team is coming off a good week — there will be multiple spotlights.
The biggest question when both Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz assumed the GM/head coach role of the New York Islanders this past spring was simple.
How were they going to fix the defense?
Last season, the Islanders defense suffered its worst statistical season in over two decades. 296 goals against (tops for last in the league, lead after lead blown, and everything else negative you can imagine under the sun. One player who took an enormous hit was Nick Leddy. Leddy, 27, has been a major key on the Isles blueline for a number of years now. Last year, the Minnesota native went from putting up close-to Norris worthy numbers early in the season to falling off a cliff from December through April. Minus 42. That’s the number — and it was last for players in the entire NHL in that stat — that embodied just how lost Leddy became.
Seeing those numbers, you would think a player of Leddy’s caliber severely regressed. But there were factors that contributed to such mind blowing numbers.
The system former head coach Doug Weight employed literally left the d-man by the wayside. Abandoning anything that resembles defensive structure left Leddy to fend for himself. Calvin de Haan going down in November also forced Leddy to really pick up the slack. And it showed as throughout the year. Leddy many times looked overwhelmed with and without the puck with de Haan sidelined. Watching his d-partner, Johnny Boychuk, miss time because of injuries relating to his rough n’ tumble style, also pushed Leddy to have to do everything on his own. Trying to take the bulk of Boychuk’s work, just made it even harder for Leddy to keep playing his game. Hard to believe, Leddy still accumulated 42 points in 80 games played — his third straight season with 40-or-more points.
Now watching Leddy since he arrived just in time for the 2014-15 campaign, his game is straightforward: Skill and speed.
Those two assets are the keys needed to have success in today’s NHL. Coming into this season, and with a new system put in place, the thought was Leddy would return to his pre 2017-18 form. Through the first three weeks of the season, it seems that Leddy is still trying to find his footing. Leddy has had difficulty finding chemistry with Luca Sbisa and even his running mate in Boychuk. Not being able to execute with those two guys could be excused because the whole team is still adjusting to the new structure, but Leddy has yet to record a point through the Isles first seven games of the year and is a -3 overall.
It’s still way too early in the season to know if this will be a season-long trend, but as one of the more skilled veterans and faster skaters on a slower team, Leddy needs to regain that confidence and swagger that has made him synonymous around the league and to the fans. More so, really after a not so spectacular showing on the recent road trip, Leddy just needs to settle down without trying to do too much.
The three games this week — Florida Wednesday, Philadelphia and Carolina back-to-back on the weekend — is an opportune time for Leddy to get that all important first point and be off to the races.
Aside from the success he’s had against those three teams since joining the Islanders, the team itself needs Leddy to start producing. The Isles backend has only contributed one goal this year — Scott Mayfield in game three — and just eight points overall as a unit. A team that doesn’t get contributions from its defense, and especially one of their top defensemen, will have trouble with consistency. Maybe now being paired with another offensive d-man, Ryan Pulock, will change Leddy’s fortunes and allow him more time to create space.
So far, it hasn’t been the start that Leddy, the coaches, and the fans would have liked. Still, there’s a lot of hockey left to be played and a chance for Leddy to finally get back on track.
For the Islanders to have this season not go off the rails, they need Leddy to turn the page. And that all starts with him this week reminding everyone why he still one of the more prominent players donning the blue and orange crest.
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