The New York Islanders are having a Stanley Cup-contending season and will likely look to add one more player to an already talented roster. They are having a great season, but they will need one or two pieces, particularly in the forward unit, to put them over the top and make them one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference.
A team they can look to is the San Jose Sharks, who are one of the worst teams in the NHL, with an 8-13-4 record. The Sharks will consider moving on from some of their veteran players to build a younger roster for the future. The Islanders have a handful of players they can target from the struggling team that could propel them to the Cup.
The Sharks have to decide before the trade deadline (or this offseason) whether Timo Meier is part of their long-term plans. He’s a restricted free agent (RFA) at the end of the season, and although they have the space to re-sign him, is he a player they can build around? He is 26 years old and can be one of the veteran players to lead a younger team, but by the time the Sharks are competitive, he will likely be entering the twilight of his career.
This is what the Chicago Blackhawks faced with Alex DeBrincat in the 2022 offseason – a good player in his prime but on a team looking to rebuild from scratch. As a result, they traded him to the Ottawa Senators for draft selections, including the seventh-overall pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. The Sharks might be baited into doing the same with one of their best players and entertain a Meier trade with the hopes of acquiring more prospects and draft picks to build for the future.
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That said, the Islanders might have to give up a considerable number of assets to acquire Meier, but he would be a major addition to the team. He has 12 goals and 11 assists this season and, throughout his seven-year career, has proved he is a well-rounded forward who makes his linemates better. He would immediately upgrade the Islanders’ top-six and help turn an offense that is already having a strong season into one of the best in the NHL.
Kevin LaBanc is an interesting option because he isn’t a rental, with a four-year contract expiring after the 2023-24 season, which would allow any team that acquires him the luxury of keeping him for a Cup run this season and the next. Additionally, his contract, while not a bargain, is only $4.72 million per season, and the Islanders could add him without having to move too many players around.
The Islanders would particularly benefit from acquiring LaBanc’s offensive skillset. Along with being a reliable middle-six forward, he is a pass-first player. He has tallied 15 assists or more in four of his seven seasons with the Sharks, including 39 assists in 2018-19. The Islanders have plenty of pure goal scorers with Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, and Zach Parise, but aside from Mathew Barzal, they lack a puck facilitator. LaBanc would add more depth to the offense and another playmaker to make it a complete unit heading into the playoffs.
Like Meier, Evgeny Svechnikov is an RFA at the end of the season, and it’s unclear if the Sharks will bring him back to help with the rebuild. Unlike Meier, however, Svechnikov isn’t a proven elite forward and has only recently started to make an impact in the NHL. Last season with the Winnipeg Jets, he played in a career-high 72 games, and in a full-time role, he scored seven goals and 12 assists.
The Islanders wouldn’t make a splash by acquiring Svechnikov per se, but he would be a depth addition for the bottom-six. Although the team already has the depth for a Cup run, this season, the bottom-six has struggled offensively, particularly on the fourth line, with Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin, and Cal Clutterbuck combining for only four goals and eight assists.
Other Sharks the Islanders Can Target
Of course, a lot of teams will be interested in acquiring defenseman Erik Karlsson. He has made himself one of the frontrunners for the Norris Trophy this season with 11 goals, 21 assists, and strong defensive play. That said, general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello will likely avoid making a move for him, especially considering his contract, worth $11.5 million per year for the next five seasons.
The Islanders could also consider acquiring forward Luke Kunin, who, like Svechnikov, isn’t a flashy name but would still be a valuable depth addition. Kunin is having a respectable season with the Sharks, scoring five goals and seven assists as part of their middle-six, and he could add to New York’s forward unit to help set them up for a Stanley Cup run.
The Islanders have options ahead of the trade deadline. They could make a splash by acquiring a star-caliber player, but Lamoriello can also make one or two depth additions. The Sharks have both types of players, and the Islanders could be giving them a call as the season progresses.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.