It’s no secret the New York Islanders are having an up and down season, albeit some of those reasons have been out of their control. It’s easy to point to their 13-game road trip to start the season as UBS Arena neared completion or their poorly contained COVID-19 outbreak taking down all but a handful of full-time NHLers. While those are certainly factors, at some point the rubber needs to meet the road, and for a team that went to back-to-back Stanley Cup Semi-Finals, the on-ice product hasn’t cut it yet this season.
And though the trade deadline is less than two months away – March 21 – the Islanders need to start thinking about making some sort of move if they have any hopes of re-entering the postseason conversation. As of today, the team is 2-14-2 vs. teams holding playoff spots and have been outscored 61-30 in those games, including their recent loss to the Minnesota Wild 4-3. In doing so, they’ve written their own story for the 2021-22 season, possibly ending in missing the playoffs for the first time under general manager Lou Lamoriello, and head coach Barry Trotz. If the Islanders are going to compete with the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals for one of the last two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference, they’ll need to bolster their lineup sooner than later.
As The Fourth Period’s David Pagnotta said on a recent edition of the Nassaumen Hockey Podcast, the Islanders have more finishers than many give them credit for. And while it’s easy to point to the low goal scoring of the team overall, under three goals per game, Pagnotta mentioned it was due to a lack of setup players and not for their lack of goal-scoring talent. Now, we’ll get to the goal-scoring department a bit later, but this was an important point made as followers of the team, and media alike, try to predict what the team may do at the deadline, or even into the summer.
Mathew Barzal is certainly a hybrid, though he’s leaned towards shooting a bit more beginning in the 2020-21 season. With that being said, considering that change as well as Anders Lee’s ability in front of the net, the line may benefit from a playmaking forward as opposed to a scorer. In addition, you could also consider another playmaker of equal or lesser stature on the second line flanking Brock Nelson and opposite Anthony Beauvillier. Nelson leads the team with 14 goals in 28 games; could he benefit from a setup player of a high caliber than Josh Bailey? His goal totals certainly point towards that type of solution. Beauvillier may also benefit from this so long as he isn’t part of a trade for the offensive defenseman they’re also seeking.
As the Islanders welcome Ryan Pulock back to the lineup as he recovers from a lower-body injury that’s kept him out since Nov. 15, it’s clear the team needs additional defensive help even after he returns. The departures of Devon Toews (Colorado Avalanche) and Nick Leddy (Detroit Red Wings) left a huge hole, and not the Islanders are in search of a defender to drive offense.
The addition of Pulock helps give head coach Barry Trotz a solid top-four once again, reuniting Pulock with 2022 All-Star Adam Pelech, but there’s still a need for a long-term addition of an offensive defenseman. Even with Noah Dobson adding a touch of offense after a slow start to the season, we’ve yet to see him drive offense in the way many were hoping he would in the absence of Toews and Leddy. Dobson’s strength is in the offensive zone, getting pucks to the net and making plays from the point, particularly on the powerplay.
Jakob Chychrun’s name has been bandied about with some connections to the Islanders. His $4.6M contract continues for three more seasons after 2021-22, and at just 23 years old, he’d be a long-term addition to a fairly young defensive core for the Islanders that includes Pulock, Pelech, Dobson, and Scott Mayfield with youngster Robin Salo in the wings, granted he isn’t part of the deal. If it’s not Chychrun, a defender with the same skillset is likely desired to help return this team to its stature from the last few seasons.
If you’ve been following the Islanders over the last decade-plus, you know this has been a need for this team. As soon as John Tavares came into his own, the first-line winger carousel began with too many to try and list here. With Tavares’ departure in the summer of 2018, Barzal became the lone superstar on the Islanders and presumed the role of first-line center in need of a supporting cast.
Even in the last few seasons since Trotz and Lamoriello took over there have been a host of wingers riding shotgun next to Barzal. Now, with the Islanders struggling to score goals and generate high-danger scoring chances at the same rate as the last two seasons, many are calling for the carousel to end with a high-profile trade. Who that may be, however, is a mystery. This type of acquisition is likely an off-season move, though, depending on the price, it could come earlier.
As The Athletic’s Arthur Staple mentioned on the Nassaumen Hockey Podcast in early January, the team will make a move for players regardless of their playoff position if it will make them better not only this season but in future seasons. This, of course, is with the caveat that Lamoriello lives by the saying “if you have time, use it.” Time is seemingly running out on the 2021-22 season, but looking forward, there’s a bit of time to formulate a plan and put it into place for the 2022-23 campaign. This won’t make Islander fans feel warm and fuzzy as this season’s flame fizzles out, but this is a team a few pieces away from retooling, and leaving some pieces behind, before making another long playoff run in the near future.
Jon Zella is a 31-year-old, Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.