The New York Islanders and the Vancouver Canucks, oddly enough, enter the offseason in a similar status. Both teams struggled in the first half of this season but in the second half, proved they have the pieces to not only reach the playoffs next season but possibly transform themselves into Stanley Cup contenders.
While the Islanders’ offseason already saw a head coaching change with assistant coach Lane Lambert being hired by the team, the Canucks also went through a handful of changes this offseason, including replacing a handful of assistant coaches. Both teams enter the offseason with a lot of promise on their rosters but also overlapping needs and a move between both front offices could ultimately benefit both teams.
Islanders Can Strengthen Forward Unit
The Islanders are looking to add an elite playmaker to the forward unit to help the offense improve. Whether it’s signing a free agent like Johnny Gaudreau or making a trade for Patrick Kane, the team is willing to pay the price needed to not only help some of their forwards rebound next season but to transform the offense into one of the best in the league.
J.T. Miller is entering the final year of his contract and has been linked to multiple trades, with many teams looking to acquire the talented forward. After scoring 32 goals and 67 assists this season, he helped the Canucks find scoring chances and oftentimes, created scoring chances by himself in the offense. Miller wouldn’t be a star in the Islanders’ forward unit but would help out the top six of the offense and open up scoring chances regardless of the shift he plays on.
Likewise, the Canucks can look to move Bo Horvat, who like Miller, is playing in the final year of his contract. Horvat is the captain, making him unlikely to be moved by the front office but for the right offer, the team could look to move one of their faces of the franchise. The veteran forward would also add depth to the offense and provide the Islanders with another goal scorer along with Brock Nelson and Anders Lee, particularly beating opposing goaltenders with a good shot in the offensive zone.
Both Miller and Horvat are risky players to acquire, considering they are playing in the final seasons of their contracts. However, both skaters would require the Islanders to trade significant assets to acquire them. Whether it’s draft picks or proven starters that are already on the roster and have multiple years left on their current contracts, allowing the Canucks the potential avenue for rebuilding around players.
Canucks Can Add Veteran Presence to the Defense
The Canucks defense played well this season and was one of the strengths of the team, allowing only 2.82 goals per game. Quinn Hughes emerged as the promising two-way defenseman and used his skating ability to limit opponents on the rush while also helping out on the offensive end of the ice, scoring eight goals and 60 assists. Likewise, the Canucks saw Tyler Myers and Oliver-Ekman Larsson emerge as a viable defensive pairing to help the defense greatly improve as the season progressed. The problem for the defensive unit is the right side, particularly in the second and third pairing, resulting in a defense that is good but struggled in the later pairings.
Scott Mayfield is entering the final year of a five-year contract he signed in the 2018 offseason and might play his final season with the Islanders. While he is coming off an injury, the value he brings to the defensive end of the ice has allowed the team to have one of the best defensive units in the NHL in recent seasons. Mayfield will likely play next season on the Islanders but the Canucks could look to acquire him to help secure the right side of the defense. While the 29-year-old defenseman won’t open up the offense from the point, he provides stability to the unit, forcing turnovers in the neutral zone and defensive zone while also limiting opponents from finding open shots on the net.
Considering the Islanders are looking to compete next season, it’s unlikely they will trade Mayfield, one of their integral players to their defense. However, general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello can look to trade him in a potential one-for-one deal where both the Islanders and Canucks move veteran players and ultimately benefit from the trade.
Varlamov As a Reliable Backup For Demko
Thatcher Demko had a big year with the Canucks with a .915 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.72 goals-against average (GAA) on 1,967 shots as he emerged as the starting goaltender. Unfortunately, Demko was overworked throughout the season, starting 61 games and appearing in 64 games in the regular season with the team struggling to find a reliable backup throughout the season. Finding stability in the net is a top priority for the Canucks and finding a goaltender that can reliably start 20 or 30 games will not only allow the team to find success but possibly emerge as one of the better teams in the Western Conference, led by a formidable goaltending duo.
Semyon Varlamov is the ideal goaltender for the Canucks. Even in a difficult season, he managed to put together a 2.91 .911 SV% and a 2.91 GAA on 978 shots and help out the younger Ilya Sorokin as a viable backup, starting 31 games. Demko is a great goaltender but hasn’t had a backup that could take the pressure off of him and help out the Canucks goaltending overall. Varlamov is entering the final year of his contract but even at 34 years old, has proven he can still play at an elite level, making him an ideal backup for Demko in particular.
For the Islanders, moving the veteran goaltender this offseason opens up salary cap space but also allows the front office to acquire more assets or players for the big offseason ahead. However, considering the team risks losing their formidable goaltending duo of Sorokin and Varlamov, the team will likely have a high asking price, with hopes of filling a need elsewhere on the roster.
Other Potential Moves for the Islanders & Canucks
If the Canucks are looking to upgrade their forward unit, Josh Bailey could be a reasonable acquisition to help out the second or third line. However, the forward that the Canucks will be most intrigued with is Anthony Beauvillier, who has the skill set to play in the top six of a forward unit if used correctly. For the Islanders, if they are looking to make a move to contend, they could trade the 13th overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft as part of a deal to acquire a veteran as part of an effort to win now.
Both the Islanders and the Canucks enter a unique offseason, one where both teams can make a few moves to suddenly rebound in the NHL and return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both teams, especially in the second half of this season, looked promising and played like playoff-caliber teams and as a result, are only a few moves away from taking a big step forward next season.
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.