As the 2022 NHL trade deadline approaches, the New York Islanders appear to be involved in a number of conversations about potential deals. Unfortunately, they’re not in the position they thought they’d be in. When the season began, fans and management expected the Islanders to be in the midst of a playoff race, or vying for positioning in the postseason. But instead of buyers, they’re sellers, and if they’re going to turn things around quickly, they’ll need to offload some contracts. Here’s a roundup of Islanders trade rumors as they prepare to be sellers at the deadline.
Traded to the Islanders for Nino Niederreiter on the first day of free agency in 2013, Cal Clutterbuck has made an enormous impact on Long Island. Part of what many considered to be the best fourth line in the NHL, Clutterbuck, alongside Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas, helped define the Islanders’ identity even before head coach Barry Trotz arrived in 2018. But as the team slips from the top of the league following back-to-back Stanley Cup semifinal appearances, it may be time to break up the band.
Even before Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic visited UBS Arena on Sunday as the Islanders took on the Montreal Canadiens, Clutterbuck was being rumored to be moved. Though it’s believed Sakic was there to scout a defenseman, reports he was there for Clutterbuck stirred the simmering pot on the serviceable bottom-six winger. A UFA at season’s end, Clutterbuck could be a veteran boost to a playoff team looking for an edge in the playoffs with some offensive upside and the ability to kill penalties. Sources said to The Fourth Period, and confirmed by other outlets, that if the Islanders can receive a mid-round pick for Clutterbuck, it was likely he gets moved.
Despite the Islanders’ poor season, Semyon Varlamov, and his partner Ilya Sorokin, have put up great numbers this season. Couple that with Varlamov’s contract, which still has another year left at $5 million, and it’s no wonder teams are calling. Right now, rumors are that the Vegas Golden Knights are interested in the goaltender after former Islander goaltender Robin Lehner went down with what appeared to be a long-term injury. There is also a connection between Varlamov and the Golden Knights’ president of hockey operations George McPhee, who drafted Varlamov when he was the Capitals’ general manager.
But in just two short days, this rumor is being put into question, as Lehner returned to practice on Wednesday (From “Robin Lehner returns to Golden Knights practice Wednesday,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 2/23/2022). However, his numbers haven’t been spectacular this season (19-13-1, 2.86 goals-against average, .907 save percentage) and they may still be looking for some insurance as they look to make a deep playoff run.
For the Islanders, though dealing him would provide a lot of cap relief for the offseason, it would still take a hefty package to pry Varlamov away, especially because the team doesn’t have a whole lot of options for a backup if he’s dealt. This doesn’t mean a deal can’t be done, but it creates a hurdle for, at the very least, the rest of this season.
A controversial Islander as there has even been, Josh Bailey is rumored to be a player teams are calling about ahead of the trade deadline. He’s not having a stellar season thus far, catching the ire of many an Islander fan, but he could be a nice piece for a contender to add to their third line. Paired with the right linemates, Bailey could rack up assists as a middle-six forward on most playoff-bound teams. Reports have the Minnesota Wild as potential suitors for Bailey, though the trade would require the Wild to move $2.5 million before the trade or for the Islanders to retain money for at least the remainder of this season.
Bailey has two more years left on his six-year, $30 million contract ($5 million AAV) after this season and does not have trade protection. Like Varlamov, if Islanders’ general manager Lou Lamoriello can move Bailey’s contract at the deadline, it would give the team some serious cap relief this offseason as they look to retool and contend in the 2022-23 NHL season. This, of course, is only possible if they can manage to retain salary for just this season given the aforementioned Wild cap issue at the moment.
On the same day Zdeno Chara tied the record for most games played by a defenseman, conversations surfaced about Chara being available. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun stated teams are interested in the elder statesman who can still bring it physically and could be a nice third-pairing defenseman down the stretch and into the playoffs for a contender.
LeBrun was also sure to mention that, despite Chara not having trade protection, Lamoriello would likely go to Chara at some point to see if he’s interested in a move out of respect for the future Hall of Famer. Chara has struggled a bit on Long Island, but his pedigree and leadership abilities are clearly enough for teams looking to add some depth down the stretch.
Lamoriello keeps things pretty quiet, so we likely won’t know much more than we do now until a trade actually occurs. For many, these players made a lot of sense even before the rumors and reports began to be discussed. The Islanders may be holding out hop on a miraculous playoff push, but it seems more likely they’ll be sellers at the deadline, and these players appear to be at the center of the conversation.
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.