They say “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Based on the Islanders recent play, things surely don’t need fixing, but when a player with a $5.9 million price tag is ready to go, I’d consider letting him play. The problem that head coach Barry Trotz will have to deal with, though, is making room for that player in a lineup that has been playing well as of late and is in little need of a shakeup.
Andrew Ladd last played on Nov. 13 in a 5-2 win against Vancouver. He had one assist that night and seven total points in 14 games to that point. He was playing mostly on the third line with Valterri Filppula and Leo Komarov. Since going down to injury, that third forward position on that line has been a revolving door with Tom Khunhackl, Ross Johnston, Tanner Fritz, Michael Dal Colle, and Josh Ho-Sang occupying it over the past two months. Despite the constant turnover, the Islanders have kept winning games.
The Islanders were 9-6-1 when they lost Andrew Ladd. In the 14 games that he played in, the team is 7-5-2, both average records, especially considering where the Isles currently sit. The Islanders can’t afford to lose momentum, as they are in a dogfight with a few other teams in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Andrew Ladd was played in an interesting role this year when he was healthy. He started over 54% of his shifts in the defensive zone. This probably explains his career low corsi and fenwick numbers. Still, when he is on the ice, the Islanders score more goals than they allow and the goalies behind him combined for a .935 save percentage. He is also scoring a goal every seven shots, translating to about one every two to three games, which is encouraging since Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle have a combined two goals between them this season. Two of his seven points have also come on the power-play, an element of the Islanders game that has been frustrating both coaches and fans lately.
Andrew Ladd is obviously not the player he was a few years ago. There’s nothing the team can do to change that though. Instead, Barry Trotz has done what Ken Hitchcock has been trying to do with Milan Lucic in Edmonton, play to whatever strengths he has left. He won’t score more than 45 points playing in a full season from here on out. Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang can though. The question is, what will yield long term success for the team?
With Josh Ho-Sang currently in Bridgeport, the third line left wing position is Dal Colle’s to lose. He has a goal and an assist in 13 games, but is playing well. He has had many chances to score, including a high quality shot from the left circle against the Hurricanes that Curtis McElhinney turned aside. His tally was a redirection in a 3-0 shutout against the New Jersey Devils. However, his advanced stats are nearly opposite those of Ladd’s so far this year. He’s starting shifts in the offensive zone, and driving possession, and the team is winning games.
It’s a strange situation. The advanced stats suggest that Dal Colle is the better option, but he isn’t producing at a high level yet. Andrew Ladd is a much more experienced player and is more productive when he is in the lineup, but his metrics project him as a defensive, checking forward. Most importantly, the team has done worse when he plays.
Just like goalies, skaters constantly push each other for playing time. With an important one nearing return for the Isles, Michael Dal Colle, or whoever is playing next to Filppula and Komarov, will have to prove night in and night out that they deserve to play, or else coach Trotz will be forced to make a change. Competition in the environment that exists in the locker room can only yield positive results for the up can coming hockey club.