The New York Islanders are entering a new month of hockey in the thick of arguably the most competitive division in the NHL. With the trade deadline suddenly a few weeks away, the Islanders might be searching for that extra depth players either on the offensive or defensive side to help put them over the top.
The team has looked good to start the season but there are underlying question marks that make anyone hesitant about the team moving forward, whether it comes to making the playoffs, making a run in the playoffs, or possibly further. The top line has played well this season and while skaters like Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Brock Nelson have played well for the lower lines, the forwards unit could use some scoring depth, and acquiring one can put this team over the top.
The Nashville Predators appear to be sellers at the trade deadline this year. A once-dominant team in the Western Conference (reaching the Stanley Cup Final in the 2016-17 season and finishing the next season with the best record in the NHL) is now witnessing a rapid decline and a rebuild might need to be necessary. The Predators have several veteran skaters that can help any team contend for the Stanley Cup and one of the more viable trade options is Filip Forsberg. Forsberg is playing at a high level, with nine goals on the season thus far, and has two years remaining on his $6 million per year contract, making him a desirable piece for any team hoping to make a run this season.
The Islanders might not be able to make a move for Forsberg, primarily because of the cap situation where the Islanders would have to move around multiple players just to fit the $6 million onto the roster. It’s more likely the Islanders would try to acquire a cheaper but less talented skater from the Predators like Mikael Granlund or Rocco Grimaldi considering the cap space but a scorer like Forsberg can put the team offensively over the top as he can play on any line and give the offense that extra scorer to put opposing playoff defenses on edge.
The San Jose Sharks have been arguably one of the worst teams in the NHL in the past two seasons, a true testament to the team’s decline since they were one of the best teams only a few years ago (making the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 and the Western Conference Final in 2019) and had little to no weakness on their roster. The veteran group has declined and some expensive contracts make it hard for the Sharks to continue to build a contender and a rebuild might be needed. The Sharks should consider trading some of their skaters for assets and Tomas Hertl is one of the few that doesn’t force any team acquiring him to take on a hefty contract or be locked into the long term.
The Islanders would have to make some adjustments to their roster to take on Hertl’s $5.6 million per year contract for this season and next season. Likewise, Hertl has a modified no-movement clause where he can submit a list of three teams he would want to join (making the Islanders an unlikely choice). However, for the right offer, we can see this trade happen and it would give the offense a huge boost if the team is hoping to make a playoff run. The 27-year-old scorer has the playoff experience and reputation for scoring in the playoffs as part of the second or third line of the great Sharks teams a few years ago.
The Vancouver Canucks have disappointed this season, to say the least, underachieving and currently boasting the second-worst record in the North Division. The Canucks might make several moves at the deadline in hopes of refueling the roster and one of the viable players to try to trade is Brandon Sutter. Sutter is a pending free agent but a veteran scoring presence that can add that extra layer of scoring to any team he would join.
The Islanders would be able to make a move for Sutter but it should be noted that trading for any skater in the North Division would require the skater to wait two weeks before joining the team as part of COVID-19 protocols. While they would have to wait to finally get the benefits of a scorer like Sutter, it would be worth it considering how the Islanders could play him on one of the later lines and would be able to pair nicely with Jean-Gabriel Pageau or with Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck on the third or fourth line.
Should the Islanders Even Make a Move?
The Islanders might need to be silent at the trade deadline and the weeks prior primarily because of their salary cap situation. The team looks like one that can make the playoffs once again and potentially make a playoff run similar to last season when the team reached the Eastern Conference Final. However, the Islanders are still a few pieces away from truly being able to compete for the Stanley Cup. The upcoming weeks will be critical for the front office, if they continue to win and look poised to take that next step, we can expect a potential trade.
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.