The first major deal of the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline has landed, and while it is a big move, it should not come as much of a shock. The New York Islanders, seeking a replacement for the scoring and leadership lost by captain Anders Lee’s season-ending injury, have added both in a trade with the Devils, acquiring veteran forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac. The trade, as first reported by The Athletic’s Arthur Staple, marks the second season in a row that the Isles have acquired a career-Devil from their cross-town rivals, as Zajac will reunite with long-time teammate Andy Greene in New York. Both Palmieri and Zajac are immediately available to the Islanders due to their nearby locale and are expected to join the team tomorrow.
As one can imagine, the trade return for the Devils is substantial, even in a buyer’s market. In exchange for their two core forwards and 50% retention on both salaries, New Jersey receives the Islanders’ 2021 first-round pick, a conditional 2022 fourth-round pick, and young forwards A.J. Greer and Mason Jobst. The conditions one the second pick is as follows: if New York reaches the Stanley Cup Final this season, the fourth-rounder becomes a third-rounder and the Devils can choose if they would like it to be in the 2022 or 2023 draft.
This trade obviously has the fingerprints of Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello all over it. The veteran executive was the GM of the Devils when Zajac was drafted in 2004. He tried to re-acquire the two-way center last season, but Zajac would not waive his No-Movement Clause. This time around, with his contract set to expire, Zajac is willing to finally move on from the Devils in pursuit of a Stanley Cup, especially when he’ll be joined by some familiar faces. After giving up a second-round pick for Greene last year, Lamoriello did not hesitate to go back to the well in New Jersey and offer up a first for Zajac and Palmieri. He also may have played to the home crowd somewhat, adding a Long Island native in Palmieri. The 78-year-old GM is all in this year, and making the fans happy along the way.
Just what are the Islanders getting in this deal? For starters, they are adding over 1,600 NHL games of experience to the lineup, an element that can’t be understated for a contender. It certainly will help to make up for the loss of Lee in the leadership department. Offensively, neither Palmieri nor Zajac have been at their best this season, but they are still top-five scorers for the Devils with 15 goals and 35 points between them. Palmieri was considered one of the top targets on the market even in a down season and playing with any of the Islander’s three top-notch centers, especially Mathew Barzal, should help his scoring to improve. Zajac is the perfect fit for head coach Barry Trotz’ conservative system as a smart, measured, two-way forward. Where exactly he fits in the lineup on a deep roster remains to be seen. The Islanders will have to figure out what works best with their many possible line combinations, but for now Palmieri and Zajac will bump Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows from the active roster. An underrated part of this trade from the Islanders standpoint is the retained salary. With only half of Palmieri’s and Zajac’s contracts contributing to the cap payroll, the Devils are still left with about $3MM in Long-Term Injured Reserve space, enough room to make another acquisition if they so choose.
As for the Devils, they land a coveted first-round pick – an asset that is expected to be hard to come by for sellers this season. GM Tom Fitzgerald knew that the Islanders had no second-rounder to spare because he had already acquired last season in the Greene deal, so knew a first-rounder would have to be in play if the Islanders wanted Palmieri. Adding Zajac and retaining salary certainly helped the cause, but in the big picture it is well worth it to add another top prospect to the New Jersey rebuild. As for the players in the package, they aren’t flashy names or long-term building blocks, but could be nice depth additions if the Devils decide to hold on to them. Jobst has yet to get going in the pros with 15 points in 50 AHL games, but was a Hobey Baker candidate at Ohio State and scored at will in his college career. Undersized and already 27 years old, Jobst isn’t exactly a prospect and is on an expiring contract, but could be a good depth forward if New Jersey gives him a chance to translate his game to the top level. Greer, 24, was a second-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2015 and already has 37 NHL games and over 200 AHL games to his credit. Greer plays with size and energy but has also shown a scoring touch in the minors, making him a valuable substitute who can contribute in any role. The impending RFA has not proven himself to be an NHL regular just yet, but should have an opportunity with New Jersey down the stretch to prove he is worth a new contract and an extended look.