The 2020-21 NHL season has given us plenty of great games and competitive playoff races. The New York Islanders are currently in first place in the MassMutual East Division — arguably the best division in the NHL — looking eager to acquire a star player at the deadline and poised to compete for the Stanley Cup. Likewise, the rest of their division is going to be active at the trade deadline with a few other teams likely interested in making a move or two to put them in a better position in the short or long term.
It comes as no surprise that the Buffalo Sabres will be sellers at the trade deadline, with the team looking like one of the worst in the NHL and everything appearing to go wrong this season. The Sabres looked like a potential playoff team entering the season, acquiring Taylor Hall and anticipating Jack Eichel to continue to improve on his already great play. Unfortunately, the exact opposite has happened this season and the organization will try to salvage the season by building for the future.
Who will they be able to trade at the deadline? It’s a little tricky considering how some of their players are having bad seasons, but a change of scenery can be viable to some teams across the league. Hall, for example, has proven over the course of his career that he can be a top-line or second-line scorer, but this season only has two goals and thus teams will be nervous about acquiring him. Likewise, Eichel is currently on injured reserve and with no timetable on when he will return, so it’s hard to see any team wanting to acquire him unless they see the 24-year-old scorer as part of their long-term vision. In the end, whoever can be traded for assets will likely be dealt by the deadline for a team that has looked awful this season.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils looked promising entering this season, with a young core of talented players and some key veteran skaters added to the team. Unfortunately, with only 12 wins in their first 31 games, it’s clear the Devils are still at least a year away from truly competing. Unlike the Sabres, this team has plenty of key players that can easily contribute to another roster. Scorers like Kyle Palmieri or defensemen like Dmitri Kulikov, Ryan Murray, or even Damon Severson could be on the move this trade deadline with the team still hoping to build a young foundation that can be great a year or two from now.
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers are caught in the middle as they approach the trade deadline this season. Initially, it was easy to assume that they would sell at the deadline as a young team that was having a disappointing season and would hope to trade away some pending free agents or aging veterans that wouldn’t be part of the long-term picture (players like Brendan Smith and Ryan Strome can bring back a strong return).
However, the Rangers have won four of their last five games and while they are still on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, they can still make a strong push for that final playoff spot. The young team is unlikely to try to make an aggressive move to try to improve in the short term and in all likelihood, will remain silent at the deadline with hopes of simply winning with the roster they have.
The Philadelphia Flyers have been a disappointment this season, to say the least. A team that many picked to compete in the MassMutual East Division, and potentially for the Stanley Cup, has lost five of their last six games and has fallen to sixth place in the division. This was a team that many thought would be fighting for a top spot and would potentially make a move at some point this season to put their talented roster over the top. Unfortunately, the losses continue to pile up and more underlying weaknesses are exposed on the Flyers team as the season progresses.
If the losing continues, we can potentially see the team sell at the deadline, trading some star players for assets. However, the Flyers have a roster built to compete right now and are unlikely to rebuild or make moves for the future. With many of their key players like Kevin Hayes, Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk, and Jakub Voracek in the primes of their careers, the hope is to win right now, making this season all the more disappointing. The Flyers, as a result, will likely remain silent at the trade deadline, but will be open for an offer that can blow them away.
The Pittsburgh Penguins might be one of the more impressive teams in the MassMutual East Division as they were expected to be a good team, but with the third-best record in the division, they are exceeding many people’s expectations. The team might look to make one or two moves at the deadline to acquire a player to add depth to their lineup but don’t expect the Penguins to be significantly active at the trade deadline.
This is a team with many key pieces in place to win another Stanley Cup, with Sidney Crosby continuing to impress (with a team-leading 37 points, a top-10 mark in the NHL) and younger skaters like Jake Guentzel and Kasperi Kapanen making their mark as well. However, the front office knows that being overly aggressive at the trade deadline can be risky for the future, especially with a roster that doesn’t have as many reinforcements as other organizations.
The Boston Bruins have been an interesting team to follow over the course of the season. They entered the season as Stanley Cup favorites and appeared to play that way to start, but once injuries started to pile up and players on the back end started to underachieve, the team dropped in the standings. The Bruins are currently in the final playoff spot in the division, but with the talented roster they have, it’s easy to believe that they will climb the standings sooner rather than later.
The Bruins enter the trade deadline with a roster ready to compete for the Stanley Cup. All the pieces are in place, but the team can use a skater on the second line offensively or second pairing defensively to not only add depth but provide a major boost to the overall roster. The Bruins should be active at the trade deadline with hopes of competing for the Stanley Cup with a roster that is built to do so this season.
It’s no secret that the Washington Capitals have a team built to win a Stanley Cup with not only one of the best records in the division but one of the best scorers in the game in Alexander Ovechkin, who leads the team with 17 goals despite missing four games earlier in the season. The Capitals don’t have a salary cap situation that allows them to be overly aggressive at the trade deadline, but we can expect the team to try to add one or two depth players that are on cheaper contracts but are pending free agents. It’s also possible that the team tries to trade away a player in the rare one-for-one deal in the hopes of receiving a skater who can be a better fit in head coach Peter Laviolette’s system.
How Will the Islanders Approach the Trade Deadline?
If there was ever a year for the Islanders to buy in and make a big move, it would be this season. With the best record in the MassMutual East Division and a roster with little to no weakness, this is the year to make that leap with the hopes of hoisting the Stanley Cup. Since Anders Lee was place on the long-term injured reserve with a torn ACL, it became clear that the team needed a scorer that can work with Mathew Barzal on the top line or with Brock Nelson on the second line with other skaters on the roster being moved around.
Hall has been linked to trade speculation and assuming he’d want to play alongside his former Edmonton Oilers teammate, the move can be a good fit, but it would be questionable if the front office wants Hall to begin with. In the end, there are many players that can become available and viable options, but the Islanders will proceed with caution.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November but has been a journalist for multiple blogs since the end of the 2019-2020 NHL season. While not following any specific team, Mike covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers, a team that has turned themselves into legitimate cup contenders with Barry Trotz as the head coach.