The New York Islanders enter a busy 2022 offseason with a handful of needs to fix their roster. General manager Lou Lamoriello and the front office already made headlines by firing Barry Trotz and promoting assistant coach Lane Lambert to the head coaching position. Now, the focus shifts to the ice for a team looking to bounce back after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Islanders could look to the Toronto Maple Leafs as a trade partner who also finished the season in a disappointing fashion. The Maple Leafs, for the fifth season in a row, were eliminated in the First Round. After losing another Game 7, this time to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the front office will want to make that one move to get them over the hump and snap their Stanley Cup drought that dates back to 1967.
Islanders’ Left-Side Defense Needs
Toronto recently re-signed veteran defenseman Mark Giordano to a two-year, $1.6 million contract. He was acquired at the trade deadline from the Seattle Kraken and helped provide a veteran presence on defense. While the 38-year-old fives the team more flexibility in free agency – the contract doesn’t take much cap space – the move also signals that some of the other left-side defensemen could be on the move this offseason.
The Maple Leafs will likely look to trade Jake Muzzin, who is a talented defenseman coming off a rough, injury-plagued season where he only played 47 games. Ideally, the 32-year-old would be traded, but he will have to waive his no-trade clause first. Morgan Rielly is also expendable but with a modified no-movement clause, teams like the Islanders have to hope he is willing to play for them. Moreover, he is coming off an exceptional season with a 4.3 defensive point share along with 10 goals and 58 assists from the point, and the front office would rather build around the talented defenseman.
The Islanders enter this offseason with a glaring need on the left side. While they have options to help improve the defense unit, acquiring Muzzin or Rielly would instantly make it one of the best in the NHL. Both provide more of a veteran presence. They may not be the ideal young defenseman to play alongside Noah Dobson, but both skaters could play alongside Scott Mayfield and give the team two great defensive pairings.
The Islanders already have one of the best defensive pairings in the league in Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech. However, the defense struggled overall, looking slower and failing to skate with opponents in the neutral zone and defensive zone. Acquiring a veteran defenseman won’t necessarily add a scoring presence from the point, but it would provide stability, which the team desperately needs.
Maple Leafs Can Fix Goaltending Woes
Trading Semyon Varlamov to the Maple Leafs would be ideal. With Jack Campbell entering free agency, the Maple Leafs would be perfect trade partners as they will need a starting goaltender if he decides to sign with a different team.
Varlamov is coming off a rough 2021-22 season with a .911 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.91 goals-against average (GAA) on 978 shots. However, the 34-year-old has proven he can still be a primary starter in the NHL and one of the best in the league. Moreover, he has a great playoff reputation, notably helping the Islanders reach the Stanley Cup Semifinal in 2021 with a .922 SV% and a 2.56 GAA. The veteran would not only provide stability in the net for the Maple Leafs but would also help a team eager to make a deep playoff run.
The Islanders would prefer to start 2022-23 with a goaltending duo that can split starts in a full 82-game season. The problem is that last season, the 26-year-old Ilya Sorokin, who started 52 games, is the Islanders’ primary starter and will be in the foreseeable future as he is one of the elite young goaltenders in the game. Varlamov has therefore become expendable, and the front office could look to acquire assets for him or another talented player who could fill a glaring need.
Other Moves That Help Both The Islanders & Maple Leafs
The Islanders are looking to acquire a forward this offseason who can help the top two lines. William Nylander would be the ideal forward for the Islanders to pursue because he can find the back of the net and find open skaters in the offensive zone.
However, the Maple Leafs are likely going to keep their core skaters and stick to their plan for success next season and continue to build around Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Nylander, meaning the talented forward is unlikely to be traded. Instead, the Islanders are more likely to acquire a forward like David Kampf or Alexander Kerfoot, who could add depth to the offense and the middle forward lines.
In addition, the Islanders are looking to move Anthony Beauvillier or Josh Bailey this offseason. Both forwards struggled in different roles last season and could be traded to free up cap space. While the Maple Leafs don’t need to upgrade their offense, which is one of the best in the NHL, they could try to strengthen an already deep position. Beauvillier, in particular, would thrive in the Maple Leafs’ forward core and could be part of a trade between the two clubs.
The Islanders and Maple Leafs both have talented rosters and are only a few pieces away from making a deep Stanley Cup run. Both teams could help each other this offseason, whether it’s by trading expendable players or assets to bolster their rosters.
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.