We are now just two weeks away from the NHL Trade Deadline and talks are heating up. Where does each team stand and what moves should they be looking to make? We continue our look around the league with the New York Islanders.
The New York Islanders, perpetual underdogs, are again delivering an excellent season. Picked by many before the season to miss the playoffs in a loaded East Division, the Islanders have outplayed their competitors for much of the season. A top-five team in goals against average and shots against per game, the Isles have again bought in to head coach Barry Trotz’ conservative, smothering style and are frustrating opponents left and right.
With that said, New York does not have a top-class offense, and that was even before the season-ending injury to captain Anders Lee. The Islanders are just a middle-of-the pack team in terms of scoring and are below average on the power play. As a side effect of the system, they do not put a lot of shots on net and have few odd-man rushes. Simply, they need to make their scoring chances count and without Lee that becomes more difficult. The Islanders have won just five of their past nine games since their leading goal-scorer went down and have slipped into a tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins in second in the division. In terms of points percentage, New York is closer to the Boston Bruins in fourth (who have many more game in hand) than they are to the Washington Capitals in first. The Islanders are unlikely to fall out of the playoff picture completely, but to stay near the top they desperately need to add offense.
22-10-4, .667, T-2nd in East Division
Deadline Cap Space
$0MM in full-season space (LTIR, $6.53MM unused), 0/3 retention slots used, 48/50 contracts used per CapFriendly
Upcoming Draft Picks
2021: NYI 1st, COL 2nd, NYI 3rd, NYI 4th, NYI 5th, NYI 6th, NYI 7th
2022: NYI 1st, NYI 2nd, COL 2nd, NYI 3rd, NYI 4th, NYI 5th, NYI 6th, NYI 7th
Like many contenders, the Islanders don’t have the strongest pipeline to lean on. However, likely looking to add just one rental forward in a buyer’s market, they shouldn’t have to offer up any of their few elite prospects to get the job done. So fear not Isles fans, Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson aren’t going anywhere.
Kieffer Bellows is likely the name that will be heard most often as being linked to outgoing Islanders’ packages. A polarizing, but promising prospect, Bellows hasn’t found the success in the NHL that was expected of a first-round pick and World Juniors standout, but he could benefit from playing in a different system. The 22-year-old may very well be selected by the Seattle Kraken in this summer’s Expansion Draft if he is still on the roster and not protected, so the Islanders might be looking to deal him rather than risk losing him for nothing.
The Islanders also have an organization depth chart chock full of young defenseman that they could offer up in a deadline deal. Bode Wilde will be the player most suitors ask about, but the team will try to steer them away from the talented righty. Sebastian Aho and Grant Hutton are NHL-ready assets who don’t necessarily have a full-time spot waiting for them in New York next season, making them expendable, while Robin Salo and Samuel Bolduc are younger options with intriguing upside.
1) Top-Six Winger – GM Lou Lamoriello will have his sights set on one thing and one thing only at the deadline: a Lee replacement. While the captain’s locker room leadership and even his two-way effort and IQ likely cannot be found on the market, the Islanders need to find someone who can take up his knack for scoring goals. The team relies on efficiency on offense and are now missing their most reliable scorer. They are solid down the middle and have plenty of other talented wingers, but no one who isn’t already playing in the top-six can reliably fill Lee’s shoes. With up to $7MM in cap space to use with Lee on Long-Term Injured Reserve, nearly any rental winger can fit under the cap. Buffalo’s Taylor Hall, the lone exception, could be had with some retention involved, but New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri or Nashville’s Mikael Granlund would fit nicely under the cap. If the Islanders can’t manage to land one of those top options, dark horse candidates could include Chicago’s Mattias Janmark, who is scoring goals at a torrid clip this year, Vancouver’s Tanner Pearson, if healthy, or another New Jersey option, Nikita Gusev.
2) Goaltender – Being the shrewd veteran executive that he is, don’t be surprised to see Lamoriello look at solving an Expansion crisis ahead of the deadline as well. With young Ilya Sorokin exempt from the draft and Cory Schneider headed for free agency, the Islanders do not currently have the necessary goalie to expose to Seattle assuming they protect starter Semyon Varlamov, unless they extend the 35-year-old Schneider that is. Instead, look for the team to add a keeper with term on his contract or heading for restricted free agency. The team could kill two birds with one stone if they make can find a dependable addition; having a fourth-string for the playoffs and a third-string to replace Schneider next year would be a wise move.