At this point, the naysayers might have to start retracting on the idea that the New York Islanders are just a flash in the pan.
Despite a loss on Friday night, the Islanders took the best team in the Eastern Conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning, to a shootout in as thrilling a game can be despite a double shutout between Andrei Vasilevskiy and Thomas Greiss. It was further indication that the Islanders can hang with anyone thanks to the best defense in the league and superb goaltending from both Greiss and Robin Lehner.
The one area that is withholding the Islanders from transforming into one of the scariest teams in hockey is one more goal-scoring forward that can help spark the offense. Despite leading the Metropolitan Division, New York’s offense is ranked 13th in the Eastern Conference.
Highlighting the team’s inconsistent offense is a power play unit that has struggled through large portions of the season. A 0-for-4 outing against the Lightning on Friday saw the Islanders’ power-play drop to 25th in the NHL.
It makes this year’s Feb. 25 trade deadline an extremely important time for the franchise as the Islanders are expected to be buyers. It will be a change of pace after year’s of inactivity under former general manager Garth Snow.
But with Lou Lamoriello at the helm, the Islanders are suddenly being led by a big-time wheeler and dealer. The Hall-of-Fame executive is known for not shying away from major trades in order to put his team over the top. During his time with the New Jersey Devils, Lamoriello brought in some key names like Ilya Kovalchuk, Dave Andreychuk, and Alex Mogilny mid-season. And that’s just to name a few.
This winter, he has a bountiful trade market laying before him that includes star names like Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Mark Stone. The thing with Lamoriello though, is that he likes to keep his cards close to the vest. Like, really, really close. So close that even the most connected insider can get a good read on his plans.
So while the Islanders have seemingly been linked with some big names throughout the past few months, including Panarin and Duchene, it’s all mostly speculation based on their fit with the Islanders. Adding any of the three listed above would obviously bring that scoring punch the Islanders so desperately need.
However, Duchene and the Ottawa Senators continue to work on an extension to keep him in the Canadian capital while the Columbus Blue Jackets, who trail the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division, might not want to trade one of their best players to a rival they are chasing in the playoff race.
The Islanders have the kind of assets to outbid almost anyone around the league for top trade prospects, including a first-round draft pick that is reportedly on the table. So it’s almost expected for a significant upgrade to join the team by the end of the month.
But should the Islanders miss out on Panrin, Duchene, and Stone, there are other players flying ore under the radar that could provide some help.
In Detroit, the expiring contract of Gustav Nyquist could prompt the Red Wings to sell as they are in desperate need of replenishing their pipeline. The 29-year-old would add some much-needed skill to the Islanders’ depth at right wing, though he isn’t necessarily the kind of sniper that is going constantly light the lamp. He is a consistent point producer, though, accruing 45 (12 goals, 33 assists) in 52 games this season.
If the Islanders are looking for more goals, they might find a consolation prize in Ottawa if they whiff on Duchene or Stone. Center Ryan Dzingel is putting together a career year with 20 goals through his first 49 games. His previous career best was 23 in 79 games last year. It’s not the most attractive name, but the Islanders don’t have a single player that has hit the 20-goal mark yet.