If you’ve paid attention to the New York Islanders at all over the last 10 years, you’d know this team has been starved for offense, particularly during this “mentally crushing” season as head coach Barry Trotz recently called it. In the Islanders’ most recent loss to the Colorado Avalanche on March 7, 5-4 in regulation, Brock Nelson was once again the star of the offense. Even when superstar Mathew Barzal is in the lineup, as he was in that game, Nelson always pushes the needle as their most valuable all-around forward, and there’s not one good reason to trade him.
Scott Mayfield doesn’t make the same splash as Nelson, but his ability to play the Islanders’ tight defensive system is an asset for the team. As the Islanders look forward and retool this offseason, trading Mayfield would put general manager Lou Lamoriello in an even tougher spot, filling an additional slot on the back end that the team simply cannot afford to waste assets and cap space on.
Islanders Need Nelson’s Offense
Other than John Tavares, there really hasn’t been any forward on the Islanders that has scored as consistently as Nelson has over the last 10 years or so, specifically over the last four seasons. As the team plays out a disappointing 2021-22 campaign and look towards the offseason, they should be looking to add offense in their top six, not take it away, as one writer suggested this week in a since-deleted tweet.
As fans galaxy brain possible moves for the offseason, it’s clear the Islanders may need two, or as many as three, top-six forwards to fill roles by departed players (like Anthony Beauvillier, rumored to be on the block as an asset to get a defenseman) or simply rearranging the lineup (Anders Lee and/or Josh Bailey moving to the third line). To move one of the team’s only consistent goal scorers and have to replace that scoring wouldn’t be wise.
It would be one thing if other players in the top six were scoring with any sort of consistency. If Beauvillier could find his game and have the breakout season everyone’s been writing about before the start of any of the last three seasons, we’re singing a very different tune here, one that likely concretely includes Beauvillier in future plans. But we’re not, and Nelson, the team’s second-line center who has now scored 20 goals in six of his nine NHL seasons, is a valuable piece of the core moving forward.
Mayfield Adds Depth
Mayfield has grown tremendously this season. A lightning rod for criticism during the last two playoff runs, he’s shown he can hang with the stars. When paired with Adam Pelech, the two big-bodied defenders did a good job together. Many point to Pelech’s ability to lift up his partners, but could it be the two showed chemistry together and succeeded? It’s possible, and good to know for Trotz, who has also commented recently on Mayfield’s growth in his time on Long Island.
“We saw he was a good penalty killer, I think he’s one of the top penalty killers in the whole league,” said Trotz of Mayfield. “He’s grown in importance and leadership. He’s more of a stay-at-home, physical, hard defender with length. He’s really grown from where I originally saw him.”
That stay-at-home, physical style is important to the Islanders’ system in their own zone, and if paired correctly in the future, he could continue to grow into the role. Additionally, he may be better suited as a third-pairing defenseman instead of the top-four role Trotz has him now.
Trading Mayfield also puts the Islanders in a difficult position in the offseason. Like Nelson and the offense, trading Mayfield would create an even larger hole on defense for Lamoriello to fill with limited salary relief from Mayfield, who carries a $1.45 million cap hit this season and next. It would leave just three defensemen from this season on the roster when the calendar flips to the 2022-23 season.
Andy Greene may return next season, but could — rather, should — be slotted as the seventh defenseman, but may stick in the lineup next to Mayfield. Zdeno Chara is not likely to return and Sebastian Aho continues to be in limbo, caught between Bridgeport and Long Island. Robin Salo is going to get a solid look heading into next season, which could really give the defense a push in the right direction and may be a third-pair partner for Mayfield or as a seventh defenseman getting the Dobson treatment. If Salo does make the team and the Islanders hold on to Mayfield, as suggested here, and/or Greene returns, the goal of seeking a second-pair defender to ride shotgun with Dobson is much more attainable.
There are a lot of good moves the Islanders can make at the deadline or offseason to open cap space to bring in some skill, but Mayfield and Nelson are absolutely not the answer right now. Aside from both of their abilities to help this team move forward, the returns on either one of them might not equal the value they have remaining on the team. Lamoriello said recently that he believes in this team’s core, and you have to believe both of these players are a part of that.
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.