After a tough season to date, rife with adversity, the New York Islanders find themselves well out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference after back-to-back trips to the Eastern Conference Finals. Considering their place in the standings, and the depth of veterans they carry, the team seemed poised to move a player or two ahead of the March 21st trading deadline. Instead, the team extended two veteran, pending UFAs in Zach Parise and Cal Clutterbuck. In his media availability after the trade deadline, Islanders’ GM Lou Lamoriello spoke candidly, saying that he had been working the phones leading up to the deadline, but mentioned that in order to get better, they would need to make a ’hockey trade’ that improved the team now and in the future.
Lamoriello’s comments lead many to wonder what the team’s offseason could look like with this in mind, and what sort of trades he could make to improve a veteran group that has certainly underperformed this season, and is sitting fairly close to the salary cap ceiling. Among those wondering were Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek of Sportsnet on their 32 Thoughts podcast. While Marek notes that the organization has many assets under control, Friedman adds that many of them the Islanders would almost certainly not move, including forwards Brock Nelson and Mathew Barzal, and defensemen Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech. All four have been consistent, important contributors for the Islanders over the past few seasons, and all are signed to contracts with term. The only one that Friedman believes could be moved, in theory, is Barzal, but only if the team doesn’t feel they can re-sign him when his contract expires after next season. Even still, Barzal will be a RFA after the 2022-23 season, leaving the Islanders with control.
Instead, Marek wonders if a ’hockey trade’ could include either Jean-Gabriel Pageau or Anthony Beauvillier. Pageau was once perhaps Lamoriello’s biggest acquisition with the Islanders, when he was acquired at the 2020 trade deadline and subsequently extended. Pageau has impressed in the playoffs for the Islanders, but has taken his own step back this season. A ’hockey trade’ could be made difficult for the Islanders here, as Pageau, who turns 30 in November, carries a $5MM cap hit through the 2025-26 season.
Beauvillier, on the other hand, may be a perfect piece to help the organization get better. The forward has been a regular for the Islanders since his debut in 2016-17, but like Pageau has taken a step back this season. However, Beauvillier carries a $4.15MM cap hit through the 2023-24 season and is considerably younger than Pageau at just 24 years of age.
Marek and Friedman return to the idea of trading Nelson in a ’hockey trade,’ because, as they say, there likely isn’t a team in the NHL that wouldn’t want him. Nelson is in the third year of a six-year, $36MM contract he signed prior to the 2019-20 season and is having a career-year with 30 goals and 15 assists in 54 games so far this season. As talented as Nelson is, his contract is providing tremendous value and could therefore provide a favorable return for Lamoriello and the Islanders. That said, one of the Islanders’ primary struggles this year, and the previous few years, has been goal scoring, and trading talented forwards like Beauvillier or Nelson away won’t help.
For now, the team will focus on finishing this season strong in order to build confidence and momentum heading into next season, where they hope to rebound and be Stanley Cup contenders once again. What that group will look like at the start of 2022-23 does, however, remain a mystery.