In a season with more x-factors than we can count, the New York Islanders have managed to keep their defense stabilized through the first half of the season. Not many teams have been able to do that, dipping into the league-mandated taxi squad when injuries or COVID protocols come into play. And while this is good for the Islanders on the surface, it may be advantageous to strategically get Thomas Hickey or Sebastian Aho playing time for a few reasons if they plan on remaining one of the league’s more dominant teams in their own end.
First, before the season even began, I was a proponent of making sure Andy Greene (38-years old) got some rest throughout the season. This wasn’t a knock on his play or his ability to be consistent so much as it’s clear head coach Barry Trotz likes when Greene in the lineup. However, much like teams do towards the end of a season when they’ve already locked up a playoff position, you want to save your important players, especially if they plan on going on a run like they did last summer. I mentioned to others before the season started that I thought Greene’s success during the Islanders’ playoff run was due in part to having a decent-sized break heading into the summer. He hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down so far in the team’s first 23 games, but it may be time to think about the long-term approach. Now, as the post-season picture gets a little clearer throughout March, Trotz may have a plan to do just that, and I’d have to agree.
Second, as it stands at the time this article is being written, the Islanders would get to dictate the swap on their own terms instead of in a pinch when an injury pops up or if there’s an issue with COVID protocols. Similar to setting up your goalie schedule when looking at back-to-backs, etc., you can look at the upcoming games and decide when the best time to insert them into the lineup.
Lastly, neither Hickey nor Aho has played a competitive hockey game, in or out of the NHL, in over a calendar year at this point. If an injury does pop up, I’m not sure you want to shoehorn a player, or heaven forbid two players, who haven’t played a game in that long of a stretch. Piggybacking off of my last point, easing them into games here and there puts both the team and the player(s) in the best position to succeed.
For a reminder of what Hickey can do, take a look back at this overtime goal against the Florida Panthers from 2016.
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