The New York Islanders are entering a big offseason after failing to make the playoffs. With head coach Barry Trotz fired after the season, and assistant coach Lane Lambert promoted as the head coach, there is an understandable amount of pressure on general manager Lou Lamoriello and the front office to acquire talented players in the offseason to help the team rebound.
Likewise, a team looking to bounce back with a big offseason ahead of them is the Vegas Golden Knights. Like the Islanders, they reached the Stanley Cup Semifinals in 2021 but failed to make the playoffs in the 2021-22 season, resulting in head coach Pete DeBoer getting fired. While the Golden Knights are currently pressed against the salary cap and have a handful of players on contracts that will be tough to move, they will look to be aggressive in the offseason and as a result, might look to make a hockey move with the Islanders.
Islanders Can Improve Defense
With the Golden Knights hoping to open up salary cap space, one of the positions they can look to trade is the defense, particularly the defensemen that are older or possess easy contracts to move. Both Shea Theodore and Alec Martinez are not only two of the more talented defensemen in the league, but both players can play the left side of the defense, which is ideal for an Islanders team searching for someone to pair with Scott Mayfield or Noah Dobson as a second pairing.
Theodore is 26 years old and entering his prime, making him an ideal player for the Golden Knights to build around. While Martinez is 32 years old, he has a modified no-movement clause and can veto trades to 16 teams, and the Islanders could be on that shortlist. However, both defensemen are earning over $5 million per year, and considering the Golden Knights are looking to open up cap space, they will actively look to trade one of the two skaters.
The asking price for either defenseman could range from draft picks to individual players, depending on which defenseman the Islanders pursue, with Theodore being a more valuable player. However, both would instantly upgrade the team’s defense and arguably turn the unit into one of the best in the league. In the 2020-21 season, the Golden Knights possessed the best defense in the NHL, allowing only 2.18 goals per game, and were led by both Theodore and Martinez on the blue line, who brought discipline and great instincts to the unit.
Islanders Should Add Forward Depth
The Islanders are looking to acquire a star scorer in the offseason. Whether it’s signing Johnny Gaudreau or Filip Forsberg in free agency, or Patrick Kane in a trade, the team is looking to acquire a top-line skater that can elevate an offense that only scored 2.79 goals per game last season.
Ideally, the player the Islanders would like to acquire from the Golden Knights is Max Pacioretty, who can burn opposing defenses on rushes and effectively handle the puck in the neutral zone and offensive zone. However, Pacioretty, like Martinez, has a modified no-movement clause where he can veto a trade to 10 teams, a part of his contract since signing the extension in 2018. More importantly, he’s an essential player on the Golden Knights, and is coming off a season where he scored 19 goals and 18 assists in only 39 games, making him a player the team will likely want to build around rather than move in the offseason. However, aside from the 33-year-old forward, there is a handful of forwards that can help out the Islanders’ depth that will likely be on the trading block.
Chandler Stephenson and William Carrier are two forwards that not only possess cheap contracts but also provide a spark to the second and third lines. On an injury-plagued Golden Knights roster, Stephenson stepped up, playing 79 games and scoring 21 goals and 43 assists to help carry the offense last season, making him a valuable player to add to any forward unit, and likely return a draft pick or prospects to a team desperate for both. While the Golden Knights would likely avoid trading away one of their leading scorers from last season, they could easily move Carrier, and the Islanders, who wouldn’t have to give up a lot of assets for him, would benefit from adding him to the third or fourth forward shift.
Varlamov Adds Goaltending Depth
Last season, the Islanders saw Ilya Sorokin not only emerge as the team’s primary starting goaltender, but he became one of the best young goaltenders in the NHL with a .925 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.40 goals-against average (GAA) on 1643 shots. Subsequently, Sorokin’s great play has made 34-year-old Semyon Varlamov both expendable and a possible trade candidate this offseason with one year left on his contract.
Varlamov had a difficult 2021-22 season as he dealt with injuries and setbacks but ultimately persevered and put together a respectable season. The veteran goaltender has more than enough in the tank to help out any goaltending unit and has experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where he recently carried the Islanders to the Semifinal in 2021. As a result, plenty of teams will be interested in Varlamov if the Islanders make him available.
The Golden Knights struggled in the net last season, with injuries affecting their goaltending unit, while defensive setbacks overwhelmed the goaltenders as well. In addition, after the team traded away Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, they realized the value of two goaltenders that could rotate starts and provide stability in the net. If the team is looking to remain competitive, they can look to acquire Varlamov, a likely one-for-one type of move to keep them under the cap and secure 30 or more starts in a season to help out the starter, Robin Lehner.
Beauvillier Can Resurrect Career
Anthony Beauvillier had a season to forget, scoring only 12 goals and 22 assists in a year he was expected to emerge as one of the best forwards on the Islanders. The 24-year-old forward struggled to find a place on the forward unit, and despite playing alongside Brock Nelson and Anders Lee, two of the top scorers on the team, he struggled to find a role on the shift both as a scorer and a puck distributor.
Despite the struggles, Beauvillier has proven he can still play at an elite level, particularly with his speed and puck handling skills. A change of scenery can help him out, and the Golden Knights would be the perfect destination, allowing the left wing to potentially play alongside Jack Eichel, who is one of the best skaters in the game. The move could be a win-win for both teams and help both front offices kickstart a busy and significant offseason.
Other Moves for Both the Islanders & Golden Knights
The team and fanbase of the Islanders will always have a special place in Lehner’s heart. The team helped resurrect his career and help turn around the goaltender’s life, making Lehner’s return to Long Island this past season an emotional one, to say the least. While the team could try to bring him back, the roster’s strength is goaltending, while the Golden Knights will only look to move their starter if they intend to rebuild next season.
Otherwise, the player the Islanders could move is Josh Bailey. At 32 years old, Bailey has become one of the faces of the franchise, but he’s at the end of his career and is taking up a decent amount of the team’s salary cap space. The Islanders and the Golden Knights are both looking to rebound after disappointing seasons, and despite the two teams entering the offseason with different issues, they could make a trade that ultimately benefits both teams.
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.