There’s been an uneasy feeling as an Islanders fan all season long from the moment that the team took the ice in mid-October. Coming off of a brutal game seven loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, GM Lou Lamoriello decided to make a change from Nick Leddy to alleviate the salary cap situation and brought in former Islander Zdeno Chara, creating a massive question mark on the left side of the defensive core. Fans felt the uneasiness in every shift they watched #33 play, and to this day, in mid-April, fans are still criticizing the play of the 46-year-old. I’m here to say that the uneasiness from fans is not fair, and the decision to have Chara on the team worked exactly how it was intended, proven through two words: Noah Dobson.
It’s no secret that Chara does not pass the eye test, as more often than not, fans can easily see just how slow the defenseman is compared to the youthful, quick, and agile league that he is up against. However, his impact is so much more than what someone can see just by zoning in on his play every shift. Specifically, Noah Dobson has succeeded in ways that were only dreamt about. It was mentioned before the season that the hope was Chara could bring a similar effect on Dobson as he did with his former defensive partner on the Boston Bruins, Charlie McAvoy. While the argument is not that Dobson has become identical to McAvoy’s level, as that would be a ridiculous case to make, Chara has indeed elevated the play of Dobson to becoming the offensive weapon Islanders fans have been longing for on the backend. According to Evolving Hockey and Natural StatTrick, the pairing of Chara and Dobson have logged the second most time on ice together at five on five, only trailing the pairing of Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield by one second. Comparing their time against all defensive pairings on the Islanders with over 100 minutes played together, the Chara-Dobson pairing has been able to produce a 62.5% goals for percentage by outscoring teams 30-18, which is third, have the third-lowest goals-against per 60 minutes at 1.68, and the third-highest goals for per 60 minutes at 2.87. The duo works extremely well analytically and has allowed Dobson to gain confidence and become an impactful player no matter who he is on the ice with.
There are an infinite number of topics that a fan could complain about from the Islanders season. Still, looking back at what has occurred, it is unreasonable to be upset with the acquisition of Chara as Dobson’s defensive partner. The team as a whole struggled for way too long at the beginning of the season, and the blame can not be put on one singular player in Chara. Instead, the fan base needs to hold onto the progress that was made for specific players, especially one as pivotal as Dobson’s evolution. That transformation was made as abruptly because of Chara’s impact. They are going into the last handful of games where the playoffs are seemingly lost after the previous few losses to Dallas and St. Louis. Fans should watch the games with a bit of relief that the defensemen that was believed to become this offensive threat is budding into exactly that and enjoy the team as they enter the most significant offseason in the Trotz-Lamoriello era.