No matter how much change is expected, it’s still hard when it finally arrives. Change finally came knocking on the Islanders’ door yesterday.
The first domino to fall in a very busy offseason for the organization took place last night with Nick Leddy being traded to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a 2021 2nd-round pick and forward Richard Panik.
It marked the end of Leddy’s seven-year run on Long Island and the end of an era for the Islanders.
For a few days, if not weeks now, Leddy’s time with the Isles felt to be coming to a close. At the team’s breakup day with the media just 48 hours after their crushing Game 7 defeat to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Semifinals, the veteran d-man acknowledged that he didn’t know what the future held when asked about the upcoming expansion draft. The 30-year-old defender’s name had also surfaced heavily among trade rumors over this past week as The Athletic’s Arthur Staple reported.
The Isles’ strenuous cap situation going into this summer meant changes were bound to happen. Leddy was a the top of that list with the team needing relief to ensure they can get all three of their RFAs — Adam Pelech, Anthony Beauvillier and Ilya Sorokin — signed and to hopefully bring back fourth-line center and unrestricted free agent Casey Cizikas. Now that he’s gone to Detroit, those two objectives for g.m. Lou Lamoriello don’t seem as daunting as they were just 24 hours ago.
Leddy’s departure does mean there will be big shoes to fill. There’s obviously a few candidates who could be in the running. 21-year-old Noah Dobson got a full season under his belt this year and is still growing. Prospect Samuel Bolduc opened many eyes in the AHL this past season. Lamoriello could also try to fill Leddy’s spot by acquiring someone via trade or on the open market.
Those conversations will become more important in next few weeks and months.
But for now, reflecting on the impact Leddy made during his time on the Island should be recognized. When he and Johnny Boychuk were acquired just mere hours of each other on that glorious October afternoon seven years ago, it signaled a shift for the organization. A giant one I might add. Leddy immediately helped establish credibility back to the Islanders on the ice. The Isles were building something special then and he was an intricate part of it. And boy did he perform.
He and Boychuk became the club’s one-two punch on the backend and ignited the offense from that in a way the team hadn’t seen in years. That duo were the Islanders’ foundation on the blueline for several seasons up until Boychuk’s unfortunate eye injury he suffered during the 2020 regular season, which forced him into early retirement.
Leddy’s 37 points in year one, followed by three-straight campaigns of 40 points or more — he became the first Isles d-man to record 40-plus points three consecutive years since Hall of Famer Denis Potvin and Mark Streit — were big part of the Islanders finding success.
And his skating? Flawless. Before Mathew Barzal arrived, there was no one more exciting with the ability to move his feet and weave his way through the opposition then Leddy. His end-to-end rushes too weren’t a nightly thing, but when they did happen, they were a sight to see. It’s no surprise he became a huge favorite of head coach Barry Trotz from the moment he took over behind the bench because of how wonderful a skater he was.
Nothing was better the last few years than watching Nick Leddy would go end-to-end and score pic.twitter.com/s87EfeqJSZ
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) July 17, 2021
If not his incredible wheels, it was Leddy’s durability and reliability that stood out most. He missed just eight (yes EIGHT) games during his tenure in blue and orange. That’s an astonishing stat based on the fact that he was playing heavy minutes every single night season after season. Even the past few years — considered down ones from a defensive standpoint. — Leddy remained a bedrock. His 31 points in the regular season this year led the team for a d-man.
The Red Wings are getting a great piece in Leddy to add to the team their building. He will be a tremendous mentor to the young guns they have on the blueline and will bring much-needed experience.
This most recent postseason was a struggle for him and it might have factored into him being traded beyond being a casualty of the cap. But that doesn’t take away from the legacy Leddy left on the Island.
He will be remembered for changing the perception about the franchise.
Leddy bought in to the Islanders before anyone did. He committed long-term to a place that many felt careers would go to die. And he made the absolute most of his time here and was a fan-favorite from the moment he arrived.
More changes might be coming for the Islanders soon, but the first one is always the hardest.
Leddy leaving marks the end of a key period in Isles history, one that began with him as the very centerpiece.
Follow Rob on Twitter at @RTaub_