Islanders’ 2023 Trade Deadline Was Strong But Fell Short

The 2023 Trade Deadline is in the rearview mirror and it was one of the busiest in recent seasons, especially for the contending teams in the Eastern Conference. The New York Rangers acquired Patrick Kane, the New Jersey Devils added Timo Meier, the Boston Bruins acquired Tyler Bertuzzi, and the Toronto Maple Leafs were arguably the busiest team in the league making multiple trades. The New York Islanders were part of a group of teams that made a handful of trades to upgrade their rosters and improve their chances of making the playoffs and going on a Stanley Cup run. The question is if they did enough.

Related: Islanders Strengthen Forward Unit With Engvall Acquisition

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The Islanders made significant additions to their roster. During the All-Star Break, general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello acquired star center Bo Horvat, and a few days ahead of the trade deadline, he added Pierre Engvall to the middle of the forward unit. Both moves help the Islanders in the Eastern Conference, especially in a playoff push where multiple teams are fighting for only two wild card spots. However, the movement also leaves an empty feeling. Yes, they made two big moves but only two, and didn’t address all the needs necessary for a playoff run.

Lamoriello Made a Splash

After years of coming up short in the sweepstakes to acquire a star, the Islanders finally landed an elite player. Horvat has been everything the team needed and then some. In 13 games, he’s scored five goals and three assists while centering the top line and has stepped up in all facets of the game. He has been a great defensive forward and has been the boost the Islanders needed, making the team a playoff-caliber one.

Bo Horvat New York Islanders
Bo Horvat, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Horvat was arguably the best player moved ahead of the trade deadline and he has turned the Islanders’ season around. They went 4-8-3 in January and particularly looked hapless on the offensive end of the ice, averaging only 1.93 goals per game in the month. Since the Horvat addition, they have gone 7-3-3 to leap into a wild card position in the Eastern Conference.

The cost for Horvat was a lot, especially considering what the other star players went for at the trade deadline. Meier, Kane, and Jakob Chychrun received underwhelming returns while the Islanders sent Anthony Beauvillier, Aatu Raty, and a conditional first-round pick in the upcoming draft to the Vancouver Canucks.

Anthony Beauvillier Vancouver Canucks
Anthony Beauvillier, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Beauvillier in particular is making the deal look like a regrettable one as he has thrived with the Canucks, scoring six goals and five assists as a pivotal player in their top six. That said, he needed a new setting to restart his career after struggling to find a role in the Islanders’ offense. Likewise, while the return was significant to help the Canucks in their retool, it was necessary for the Islanders to acquire a star like Horvat. Ultimately, the deal looks like a win-win for the two teams involved as they both upgraded their rosters and set themselves up for success in the upcoming years.

Islanders Add Depth But Don’t Address Need

The Engvall acquisition goes a long way for the Islanders in the Eastern Conference. The Maple Leafs were looking to open up salary cap space and Lamoriello took advantage, adding a 12-goal scorer to the team. He adds depth to the forward unit and a scoring presence to the later lines. The Islanders already had a great roster but this move rounds out the forward unit for the rest of the season and a playoff run.

While he adds a scoring presence, Engvall is a center who can occasionally play the left wing. When Jean-Gabriel Pageau returns from injured reserve, he will have to move to the wing and play his normal position. The problem is that the Islanders need help on the right wing and failed to address that need. In his first game with the Islanders, a 4-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Mar. 4, he played on the right wing alongside Horvat. However, with only two shots on goal and 17:26 ice time, he was uncomfortable and a non-factor in that position.

Pierre Engvall New York Islanders
Pierre Engvall, New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The move for Engvall might also signal the confidence both Lamoriello and head coach Lane Lambert have in Simon Holmstrom and Hudson Fasching, two forwards who were called up to play the right wing. Both skaters were promoted from the American Hockey League (AHL) from the surplus of injuries to the forward unit and they have stepped up in recent weeks. If they continue to play well, the Engvall addition looks like a great one as he rounds out the unit and provides little to no weaknesses. However, if the two skaters struggle in the upcoming weeks, the forward lines, especially the bottom six, can become a glaring weakness and hold the Islanders back.

Lamoriello Doesn’t Make That Final Splash

Lamoriello could have made one final big move at the trade deadline to put his team over the top, specifically, another addition to the forward unit. The Islanders need a shooter on the wing to not only upgrade the offense but make them capable of defeating the other elite teams in the Eastern Conference in the playoffs. Instead, he stayed quiet, something he typically does when the rest of the league is active, but a disappointment nonetheless.

The Islanders leave the trade deadline with only two moves that will keep them competitive but leave them one piece short of the rest of the conference. It’s possible that teams had a high asking price for players like Tyler Toffoli or Taylor Raddysh. Lamoriello has been aggressive this season and has shown a willingness to compete this year but it’s possible that he didn’t want to move a top prospect or another draft pick. However, considering the urgency to win now, it’s surprising that he stopped making big moves after acquiring Engvall.

Other Notes on the Islanders’ Trade Deadline

In a vacuum, the Islanders’ trade deadline was a strong one but considering how the rest of the division and the conference upgraded their rosters, they failed to gain significant ground on their competition. The Rangers and Devils added stars to their roster while the Carolina Hurricanes upgraded their forward and defensive units with the Jesse Puljujarvi and Shayne Gostisbehere acquisitions.

Shayne Gostisbehere Carolina Hurricanes
Shayne Gostisbehere, Carolina Hurricanes (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

The question for the Islanders is how successful this season can be considering the moves they made compared to the rest of the conference. Granted, they look like a team poised to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference but as a wild card team, they would likely be eliminated in the first round. If the Islanders have a remarkable finish to the regular season and jump into third place in the Metropolitan Division, they have an easier path in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but still have a tough road ahead of them.

The Islanders upgraded their roster to secure a playoff spot to fend off the Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators, and the rest of the young competitive teams in the conference but they failed to make that final addition. It leaves them in a difficult position for a Stanley Cup run as a first round exit appears inevitable.

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The one caveat is that this team has a unique confidence that if they can make the playoffs, they can go on a run. Aside from playoff experience throughout the roster, the Islanders have arguably the best goaltender in the NHL, Ilya Sorokin who can lead the team on a deep run. They can face the Bruins, who are on pace for a historic season and are 3-0 against the Islanders. At the same time, they faced the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that won six of the eight regular season games against them, in the First Round in 2021. They ended up defeating them in six games. Similarly, the Islanders believe if they can reach the playoffs, they can win the Cup, regardless of who they face.