Before the 2014-15 season began, the Chicago Blackhawks had a tough decision to make. With the team over the NHL’s salary cap, they were forced to jettison a player via trade and they chose to send defenseman Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders.
The return for the defenseman was solid, including prospect defenseman TJ Brennan (who made the AHL All-Star Game for the Rockford IceHogs this season), but to say that Leddy has thrived in New York would be an understatement. He currently leads the league in USAT (a statistic that measures the number of unblocked shot attempts taken by a team vs. the number taken against them while a player is on the ice) and is currently ranked third in the league in SAT (the same statistic, except with blocked shots added in), trailing Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty.
With that type of dominant performance in puck possession, it isn’t surprising that the Islanders locked him up to a long-term deal Tuesday, signing the 23-year old to a seven-year contract worth just over $38 million.
Especially in light of the Blackhawks’ recent defensive struggles, there are plenty of fans ruefully recalling the day that Leddy was traded to the Islanders. When the trade went down, we described it this way:
“Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival were also on the block, but the young Leddy best combined cap relief and quality return for Chicago……The Hawks’ depth of proven NHL players does take a hit with this trade, and it will put more pressure on the team’s top two pairings.”
Considering how quickly Oduya and Rozsival have gone downhill this season, and with the injury to Trevor van Riemsdyk robbing him of about half a season worth of play, the Leddy trade certainly lived up to both of those statements. He was never a favorite of Joel Quenneville (his benching during the 2013 Stanley Cup run was particularly telling), but another team saw the chance to add a puck-moving, fast-skating defenseman to their blue line, and they’re laughing all the way to the bank as they cruise to a high playoff seed and status as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
That being said, those weeping and gnashing their teeth over losing Leddy are dismissing the first part of our prognostication too quickly. Yes, the Blackhawks could use Nick Leddy right now, but there were plenty of other factors at work. What kind of a return would they have gotten for a guy like Oduya or Rozsival? Draft picks, perhaps. Middling prospects, maybe. There’s no way they would’ve gotten a player with the kind of upside that Brennan has, and there’s no way they would’ve been able to afford around $5.5 million per season for a new contract for Leddy next year with the cap crisis they’re already potentially facing.
With the team's struggles on the blue line this year, some fans may look at this as a careless misstep by Stan Bowman now, but at the time and with future considerations in mind, it was still the right move.