As a surprise to approximately everyone in the NHL world, the New York Islanders are in first place in the Metropolitan Division through 48 games and have the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference with 62 points.
This was a team expected to wallow near the bottom of the East after the loss of John Tavares while bringing on no significant upgrades for a defense that was the worst the NHL had seen in a decade.
But Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz have brought a winning culture to Brooklyn and Long Island as the Islanders have the best goaltending duo in the league along with the top defense as they’ve allowed an NHL-low 119 goals.
It’s a rock-solid foundation for a team that has been the hottest in hockey over the past month. They have won 15 of their last 18 games, including five-in-a-row that most recently featured a 3-0 victory over the Anaheim Ducks. It was the Islanders’ second-straight shutout and just the fourth time in franchise history they recorded two-straight shutouts with two-different goalies (Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner).
The offense has been doing just enough to keep the Islanders clicking without Tavares thanks to scoring depth that has been unseen around these parts in quite some time. For the first time since the 1984-85 season, New York has eight players with 10 or more goals through 45 games.
But with the postseason suddenly a legitimate possibility for a franchise that has just one postseason series victory since 1993, the Islanders could be looking for an added, big-time boost for the offense.
According to the Fourth Period’s David Pagnotta, the Islanders are expected to be “active” around the NHL’s Feb. 26 trade deadline as they look to be buyers. He added that they would weigh going after both rentals and players with term remaining and would be willing to trade a first-round pick.
While this is a compelling report that indicates the Islanders are about to go all-in on a Stanley Cup run this year, there will be plenty of skepticism surrounding it. Lamoriello keeps his cards extremely close to the vest as even the most reputable insiders have a hard time forecasting what he’ll do.
But if Pagnotta’s reports are valid, the Islanders dangling a first-round pick means that they are willing to make a huge move.
Who could the Islanders go for?
There has been a trio of names over the past few weeks that could be the crown jewels of the trade market. It remains to be seen if they will, in fact, be available though.
Ottawa Senators forward Matt Duchene has been linked to possible trades, including with the Islanders, since the summer as his contract will expire at the end of the season. The 28-year-old is putting together one of his best years as a pro with 46 points (20 G, 26 A) in 40 games during his first full season in Ottawa after being traded from the Colorado Avalanche last season.
The rebuilding Senators though have recently met with Duchene’s agent and reportedly offered an eight-year contract worth $8 million AAV, per TSN’s Darren Dreger, though nothing is imminent as of yet.
If Duchene is off the table, the Islanders could inquire about his teammate, Mark Stone. The 26-year-old is having a career year of his own with 22 goals and 28 assists in 49 games.
In St. Louis, a miserable start to the season saw the Blues fire head coach Mike Yeo and make everyone on their roster available, including star winger Vladimir Tarasenko, per the Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford.
While they’ve somewhat improved under Craig Berube, the Blues are still struggling to get over the .500 mark. In the meantime, Tarasenko’s name has not faded from trade talks.
Averaging just over 37 goals per season over the last four years, Tarasenko is a sniper that would pack a natural scoring punch to the Islanders’ offense. He has 16 goals and 14 assists in 46 games this season and is signed through 2022-23.
The most promising name available could very well be that of Artemi Panarin’s. The Blue Jackets star will meet with management during the All-Star break to discuss his future with the team as free agency looms this summer.
However, even if the Blue Jackets feel their best course of action is trading the 27-year-old, it would be difficult to see them trading him to the Islanders, a divisional opponent who they trail in the Metropolitan by just three points.