With the trade deadline approaching, we will be profiling several players in the weeks ahead that have a good chance to be dealt by February 26th.
Thomas Hickey’s name is not one that has been heard often this year: not in regards to trades, not in regards to his impending free agency, not in regards to his performance, not at all, really. Yet, the question is not why, but why not? Hickey is arguably enjoying his best NHL season and is a main reason why injuries didn’t tear the New York Islanders apart. Hickey has come a long way from being a fourth overall pick with chronic injury issues given away on waivers; it’s time to give him his due credit. Hickey is a dark horse candidate to be traded by the deadline if another team realizes his value and the Islanders decide they are better off trading him than keeping him.
Hickey is in the final season of a three-year, $6.6MM contract signed in 2015. The deal carries a $2.2MM cap hit – which will be count for under $600K by the deadline – and has no trade protection.
It’s no secret that allowing goals – a league-high 214 (and it’s not close) – is what separates the New York Islanders from many other similarly skilled contenders. Yet, things could be much worse. Calvin de Haan suffered a season-ending injury in December and Johnny Boychuk has missed more than 20 games due to injury; those injuries could have broken the Isles. Add in Nick Leddy’s struggles in his own zone and the declining play of Dennis Seidenberg and, without Hickey, this could very well be a team far outside of the player picture. Instead, New York currently holds the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and are very much in the mix to keep it. Hickey has been a solid two-way presence for the Islanders all season. Beginning the campaign as a frequent healthy scratch to now the third-leading defenseman in total ice time, behind Leddy and Adam Pelech, Hickey’s role has transformed as his performance has improved. Hickey now leads the team in plus/minus by a significant margin, is third among defensemen in scoring, and has claimed a spot on the team’s top penalty kill unit. Hickey also has the second-most defensive zone starts, again behind only Pelech, as he has been relied on for sound defensive play in his own end and his great ability to see the ice and make an outlet pass. On the personal side, Hickey is on pace for 21 points this season, which would be his third-most in the NHL and the best points-per-game rate of his career. Hickey has quietly been very impressive this season, even if the score sheet or the eye test doesn’t seem to point to a star player and, beyond that, has been incredibly valuable to the Islanders.
47 GP, 3 goals, 11 assists, 14 points, +15 rating, 63 shots, 18:07 ATOI, 46.2 CF%
Hickey has stepped up and played great for the Islanders in 2017-18. With that well-established, New York is also a team with many injuries on the blue line. Hickey cannot play a bigger role down the stretch for any other team than he has for the Isles. Like more talked-about names such as Nick Holden or Ben Hutton, Hickey will be a depth addition for a contender if he’s traded; a luxury No. 6, 7, or 8 defender. So who needs depth on the left side? The Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, both vying for the President’s Trophy, are both eager to add another body to their respective blue lines, but may be unwilling to pay the price for a top name. Hickey would seem to fit nice on either top contender. The Metropolitan rival New Jersey Devils could also greatly benefit from another body on the blue line, but the Isles may be hesitant to trade him to a team also in contention for an Eastern wild card spot.
The best chance for the Isles to both trade Hickey and also not hurt their own Stanley Cup odds would be to look west, where the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets would both like to add another defenseman on the left side, especially one who plays a confident game in his own zone. Either destination would be a good fit for Hickey, where he could work his way into a starting role.
Likelihood Of A Trade
Unlike the aforementioned Holden and Hutton, Hickey is not on a team that is a bona fide seller. The Islanders are still fighting for a playoff spot and, more importantly, to show impending free agent John Tavares that they have a bright future. Hickey has played such a key role for New York, that no one will blame them that if they use him as their own “rental” in order to maintain some semblance of a team that can prevent the opposition from scoring.
However, there are two scenarios in which Hickey becomes far more likely to move. The first is if, over the next nine days, the Islanders’ playoff hopes take a major hit. New York plays its next three games against likely playoff teams, including the Devils, and anything less than two points in that stretch could see their playoff hopes slip away. The second scenario is that, as has been rumored, the Isles acquire one of the top defensemen on the trade market. While that would be a sign that they are all in for this season, even if their acquisition has term on his contract, it could also mean that they hedge their bet by trading away Hickey for the best offer.
If the deafening silence surrounding Hickey means anything, the Islanders are not keen on moving him. Yet, things can always change around the deadline. A loss of playoff odds, a big trade, or even just an overwhelming offer could cause GM Garth Snow to rethink his plan. Give it a 50/50 chance that Hickey is dealt.