This news isn’t entirely surprising given the recent announcement that Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock has been placed on injured reserve. Pulock’s injury left the Islanders thin on the right side of their blueline, a significant problem for a team facing Stanley Cup contenders in its next two games. With Pulock out, the Islanders were likely to have to slot Grant Hutton into a regular role on their blueline.
While the six-foot-three Hutton has been a nice find for the Islanders as an undrafted free agent signing from a few years ago, he has just 18 games of NHL experience. While Hutton is deserving of admiration for how he has worked his way up from the college ranks to the NHL, he is not the kind of reliable veteran a coach would likely prefer to see filling in for Pulock.
Pulock plays a minutes-eating role with the Islanders, enduring tough matchups against opposing teams’ top forwards. He also plays a critical role on the team’s penalty kill, a unit that has struggled so far this season but ranked inside the league’s top 10 last year. Although Bortuzzo is far from the defenseman Pulock is, he is a clear upgrade over Hutton in a seventh-defenseman role.
Bortuzzo, an Octagon Hockey client, is a Stanley Cup champion and a veteran of over 500 NHL games. He’s played for the Blues for a decade and has generally occupied the seventh-defenseman role for the team.
He won’t offer much in the way of offensive value or puck-moving ability, but he brings above-average size standing six-foot-four, 216 pounds. Additionally, he’s an imposing physical presence and has racked up 491 career penalty minutes and over 1,000 career hits.
With this trade, the Islanders acquire a highly experienced defenseman at an affordable price, grabbing someone who can more reliably handle some of the minutes vacated by Pulock than Hutton likely could. This trade also gives the Islanders a better seventh defenseman for when Pulock does return, assuming the 29-year-old can re-enter the lineup after his mandated three-game absence.
The Islanders currently sit third in the Metropolitan Division with an 11-7-7 record. The Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals, and New Jersey Devils are all teams likely to make a serious push for playoff position as the season moves forward. For the Islanders to remain in a playoff spot in such a cutthroat division, the club could not afford to roll the dice on Hutton when a player with the experience of Bortuzzo was available.
General manager Lou Lamoriello has provided that necessary defensive reinforcement with this trade, and only expended a seventh-round pick to do so. While some fans may have preferred the team target a younger blueliner who plays a style more in line with the expectations of a modern NHL defenseman, (meaning someone who has some skating ability and the capability to contribute to the transition game) it’s hard to argue with the addition of such an experienced defenseman like Bortuzzo at such a cheap price. And that’s made especially true since Bortuzzo carries just a $950k cap hit in a league where cap space is often a team’s most valuable asset.
For St. Louis, this deal accomplishes a few things. Firstly, it provides an opportunity for Bortuzzo to get into games on a more regular basis than he’d done so far this season. He hasn’t played since November 18th and has dressed for just four games this year. As a pending unrestricted free agent, the more games Bortuzzo is a healthy scratch for the harder it will be for him to secure a suitable contract on the open market.
As a ten-year veteran who helped deliver the Blues their first Stanley Cup championship, it’s understandable that the franchise would want to first and foremost do right by Bortuzzo, especially if he wasn’t in head coach Craig Berube’s long-term plans.
Prior to this trade, the Blues had been carrying eight defensemen, and 23-year-old Tyler Tucker was more likely than Bortuzzo to draw into the lineup in case of injuries. Now, they’re left with a more conventional unit of seven defensemen on their active roster, a number that offers the team an additional spot for which an extra forward can now be called up to fill. Being able to do a favor to a well-liked veteran while also adding a draft pick in the process is a tidy bit of business for Blues GM Doug Armstrong.
While this trade was completed in less-than-ideal circumstances for the Islanders, it’s a deal that works on multiple levels for both involved clubs while also providing a significant opportunity to a respected veteran who is playing in a contract year.
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