With just one week before the NHL trade deadline, it’s now or never for the New York Islanders to make that big splash needed to become a serious Stanley Cup contender.
While president of hockey operations and acting general manager Lou Lamoriello is known for his unpredictability when it comes to making transactions, the surprising Islanders are going to be buyers at the deadline where they have been linked with some of the biggest names available.
Shortly after TSN’s Darren Dreger reported that the Ottawa Senators are likely going to trade star center Matt Duchene, hockey insider Dave Pagnotta revealed that the Islanders are “very interested” in the 28-year-old and have engaged in negotiations.
It’s the latest installment of a saga that has dated back to Duchene’s time with the Colorado Avalanche. The Islanders were linked to a deal with Duchene last season when the Avs put him on the trade block only for former GM Garth Snow to miss out on him and aid second-half tailspin that saw New York miss the postseason.
Shortly after losing John Tavares to free agency over the summer, the now Lamoriello-led Islanders approached the Senators about Duchene’s availability as he prepared to enter the final season of his contract before hitting unrestricted free agency.
The Senators initially had hoped they would sign Duchene to a long-term deal over the past few weeks, including rumors of an eight-year deal apparently on the table. But the Senators are one of the worst teams in hockey and don’t hold their first-round pick this season after sending it to the Avalanche for Duchene last year. That move will be especially painful if Colorado winds up getting the first-overall pick in the 2019 draft thanks to Ottawa and pick up a generational talent like Jack Hughes.
Trading Duchene allows the Senators to start a proper rebuild. He is putting up a career year with 27 goals and 29 assists (56 points) in 49 games and should fetch at least a first-round pick and a prospect for Ottawa.
It would be a steep price for the Islanders to pay considering Duchene could walk in free agency this summer. But it would be hard to believe Lamoriello would pull the trigger on such a move if he wasn’t confident that the Islanders could retain Duchene.
A staunch defense and goaltending tandem, fueled by first-year head coach Barry Trotz, has helped the Islanders catapult from irrelevancy in the Eastern Conference to the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. An inconsistent offense, especially on the power play, has provided the organization’s lone hinderance throughout this turnaround campaign. Duchene has eight more goals than Anders Lee, the Islanders’ leading goal scorer, and six more points than leading point-getter Mathew Barzal.
He would provide the Islanders with an explosive first-line center at both even strength and on the power play as he would be flanked by Lee and Jordan Eberle. His addition would allow the Islanders to take Brock Nelson and move him from first-line center to second-line left-winger alongside Barzal and Josh Bailey instead of rotating players like Tom Kuhnackl, Anthony Beauvillier, and Michael Dal Colle into the top-six.