Now that the dust has settled on a great 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff run by the New York Islanders, it’s time to look at will get them to the Final next season.
It’s no secret that although the Islanders are great at keeping the puck out of their own net, they have a hard time scoring goals. They finished the 2019-20 regular season ranked 22nd in goals for per game with 2.78. Anthony Beauvillier’s breakout performance in the playoffs was an encouraging sign, with 14 points in 22 games, but there’s no way of knowing whether he can sustain that pace next season.
There are plenty of offensive free-agent targets that might be intriguing to general manager, Lou Lamoriello, however, their $8,905,833 in cap space, plus whatever is coming off the books, might only give them enough room to re-sign their restricted free agents Mathew Barzal, Ryan Pulock, and Devon Toews. Those three players are considered part of the team’s core moving forward and should be Lamoriello’s priority.
Therefore, the trade market might be the only way to address the team’s need for a pure goal-scorer. Who should be Lamoriello’s hit list?
The Finnish sniper is at the top of TSN’s trade bait list, as the Winnipeg Jets have many scoring wingers and need help on the blue line. Laine is a bonafide goal-scorer, with a 44-goal season, multiple 30-goal seasons, and with 28 goals in 68 contests this season, he would have hit 30 had it not been for the NHL shut down due to the pandemic.
Laine makes for a perfect trade target; he fits the Islanders’ needs, and they have something to offer in return. A pure goal-scorer like Laine could slot in on Barzal’s wing, and provide a boost to a power play that has next to no scoring touch. The slight against Laine is that he is lousy in his own end. However, head coach Barry Trotz could solve that problem, as he has seen this kind of thing before. Washington Capitals captain, Alex Ovechkin, was lousy in his own end as well until Trotz got to him.
“I think he’s been very good for me,” Ovechkin said in 2018 after Trotz left the Capitals. “We’ve been back and forth all the time, you know? He was hard on me. He gave me very good advice because he has experience, and that’s the whole thing. When the coach knows who you are and knows how to use you, you just feel great.”
If Trotz could mentor and improve Ovechkin’s game, there’s no reason why he couldn’t do the same with a 22-year-old sniper in Laine.
The acquisition certainly wouldn’t be cheap, and if you thought he would come cheaper with one year left on his contract, guess again. Laine is set to become a restricted free agent in 2021, so the Islanders would own him until he’s at least 25.
In return for Laine, the Jets might be interested in obtaining Toews’ rights to negotiate with him before he is re-signed, along with other assets like prospect Oliver Wahlstrom, and draft picks.
|Winnipeg Jets Trade||New York Islanders Trade|
|Patrik Laine||Devon Toews, Thomas Hicky, Oliver Wahlstrom, 2021 First Round Draft Pick|
Nikolaj Ehlers has also heard his name churning on the rumor mill. He is a speedy forward who has reached the 20-goal plateau four times in five seasons and came one goal short of 30 goals in 2017-18. His affordable contract (at $6 million AVV until 2024-25) would make it easy for Lamoriello to swap a defender for him though that’s easier said than done.
At 24 years old, Ehlers fits the mold of the young Islanders’ core and could be a huge part of the solution moving forward. He doesn’t quite have the same goal-scoring touch as Laine, but he’s not far off either and he would come slightly cheaper than Laine, but not by much, especially given the Jets’ need for a defenseman.
|Winnipeg Jets Trade||New York Islanders Trade|
|Nikolaj Ehlers||Nick Leddy, Kieffer Bellows, 2021 First Round Draft Pick|
The Calgary Flames had another short-lived postseason run, and it seems that big changes are ahead for the “C of Red.” Johnny Gaudreau is a big name that could move on from the Flames, as general manager Brad Treliving will be looking to shake up the culture of the locker room.
Gaudreau has been making highlight-reel plays for the Flames since his sophomore campaign in the 2014-15 season. The two-time 30-goal scorer would be a welcomed addition to the Islanders, as he brings a scoring touch they haven’t seen since John Tavares totaled 38 goals and 86 points in 2014-15.
Gaudreau will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2021-22 season, so the Islanders would have two seasons of control at a reasonable $6,750,000 AVV. The Flames gave up a little over three goals a game, averaging 3.06 in 70 games during the 2019-20 season. Some of that is due to their shaky goaltending situation, but they will also need help on their blue line, and some veteran leadership.
|Calgary Flames Trade||New York Islanders Trade|
|Johnny Gaudreau||Johnny Boychuk, Oliver Wahlstrom, Sebastian Aho, 2021 First Round Pick|
The idea here is that the Flames would add a veteran like Johnny Boychuk who will help on the blue line and in their locker room. He is a former Cup winner and knows what it takes to contend in the playoffs. However, the real prize here is adding Wahlstrom, who can provide an NHL-ready shot at just 20 years old.
The Vancouver Canucks have some work to do this offseason, with a plethora of unrestricted free agents hitting the market and restricted free agents to re-sign. They will want to bring some of their free agents back, and with just $14,298,122 left in cap space, they’ll have to get creative.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and Brock Boeser’s name is rumored to be traded early.
Canucks general manager Jim Benning quickly denied the rumor, however, bringing players like Tyler Toffoli, Chris Tanev, and Jake Virtanen back will be tricky with their limited cap space. Additionally, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes have one year remaining on their entry-level contracts, and they’re going to want to lock up both superstars long-term sooner rather than later.
Boeser could be the odd man out by default, and Lamoriello should make him priority number two after bringing back his key RFAs. In three full seasons, Boeser eclipsed the 25-goal plateau twice. He has a nose for the net and knows how to score goals. The former Calder Trophy runner up would slot in perfectly next to “the kid who won the Calder” that same year. With a $5,875,000 cap hit for the next two seasons until he becomes an RFA, Boeser won’t be cheap but would be worth it.
|Vancouver Canucks Trade||New York Islanders Trade|
|Brock Boeser||Nick Leddy, Oliver Wahlstrom, Sebastian Aho, 2021 First Round Draft Pick|
Leddy’s contract gives the Canucks a little more room to play with, while Wahlstrom comes in on a rookie contract and restricted free agent, Sebastian Aho can be re-signed cheap and appears ready to play NHL minutes; however, he has played limited time at the top level.
The Detroit Red Wings were last in the league in goals for and goals against last season and, believe it or not, their defensive core looks worse than their forwards.
Filip Hronek is their lone household name on the blue line, so the Red Wings might be interested in an RFA swap. Anthony Mantha is a two-time 20-goal scorer, with 24 goals in 2017-18 and 25 in 2018-19. For the most part, he has played with center Dylan Larkin who is an absolute talent. However, the Red Wings have been in “rebuilding mode” for several years now, and it doesn’t look like they’re coming out of it any time soon.
Mantha could benefit from a change of scenery on Long Island, and from a complete change in structure playing in Trotz’s system. At age 26, he fits the mold of the young core moving forward and brings a scoring touch the Islanders desperately need.
|Detroit Red Wings Trade||New York Islanders Trade|
|Anthony Mantha||Devon Toews|
The trade can easily be one-for-one. They bring equal pedigree at their position and fill a need on each side. With expected salary dumps coming for the Islanders, Lamoriello will have to find a way to free up money to sign Mantha, while Red Wings general manager, Steve Yzerman, has plenty of cap space to work with to lock up Toews.
The Chicago Blackhawks have put themselves in a tough spot financially. General manager, Stan Bowman has $7,830,461 to work with and has to try and re-sign Dominik Kubalík, Dylan Strome, Drake Caggiula, Slater Koekkoek, and Malcolm Subban. Kubalík is an interesting option for Lamoriello to go after, as the 25-year-old winger scored 30 goals in his rookie campaign and received some nominations for the Calder Trophy.
Veteran forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are taking up a combined $21 million annually for the next three seasons, and with a flat cap it will be difficult to convince any team to absorb such large contracts.
It might intrigue Bowman to take on a few rookie contracts that can slot into the NHL lineup to give the team some breathing room to get the Kane and Toews contracts off the books. Not to mention, the Blackhawks could use some youth as they’re not yet a playoff contender but also not quite rebuilding either.
|Chicago Blackhawks Trade||New York Islanders Trade|
|Dominik Kubalík||Oliver Wahlstrom, Sebastian Aho, Bode Wilde, 2021 Third Round Pick|
Wahlstrom has three years left on his entry-level contract, which is the same number of seasons left on Kane and Toews’s contracts. This alleviates one contract Bowman has to figure out while adding a young player with the potential to become a regular 30-goal scorer in the NHL. As stated earlier, Aho can step into the NHL with good value on the blue line.
Bode Wilde is a nice consolation prize, and with the Islanders’ young defense core, they can afford to give up Wilde with players like Samuel Bolduc in their system.
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For as long as Islanders fans can remember, the team has hoarded draft picks, drafted within the top 5 and made some unfortunate misses. They are a piece or two away from eclipsing the Eastern Conference Final and reaching the Stanley Cup Final. A bonafide goal-scorer is the biggest need to boost the team’s goals for per game and a power play that has come up empty too many times. It’s time to part with the picks as the Isles have an opportunity to win now. Any of these scorers would be a welcomed addition to the club and are a necessary addition to take the next step.
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James is a THW New York Islanders writer and podcast host of Nassaumen Hockey Podcast. A trusted source for Islanders content for many years at THW, James is passionate about keeping Islander fans up to date on the latest in Islanders news. Other content contributions also include his Co-Editor-in-Chief status for NYIslesBlog.com. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow James on Twitter.