The New York Islanders are on pace to have their best season since 1981-82, but Lou Lamoriello should look to upgrade at the deadline anyway.
For the first time in well over a decade, the New York Islanders’ exemplary play makes them a serious buyer at this 2019 trade deadline.
From October onward, the Islanders have exceeded almost everyone’s expectations.
Within the same calendar year, the team has owned the league-worst and league-best defense, largely due to the changes in the front office and the personnel behind the bench.
There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said about the Islanders — the goaltending has been Vezina worthy, the defense is at the top of the league, and any concerns about the offense have been quelled from a top-down contribution throughout the lineup (eight Islanders forwards have at least 10 goals).
Still, head coach Barry Trotz says it after nearly every post-game — the Islanders can get better.
Of course, the coach is referring to the commitment of his players on a game-by-game basis, but the same can be directed to Lou Lamoriello who will endure his first deadline as the Islanders’ general manager.
History shows that if Lamoriello feels his team is close — he’ll go for it and oftentimes at the cost of some high-end prospects, a foreign concept to most Isles fans.
Depth in front
As of right now, the Islanders are at the top of the league in fewest goals allowed and allow the ninth-fewest shots on goal. The performances of both Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss have been well above expectations.
For as rock-solid as their defense has been, their biggest need this season was their strongest last year — offense.
Though production has come from up and down the lineup a glaring hole exists at center. This weakness was only further exacerbated in the brief absence of Valtteri Filppula by having Leo Komarov center the fourth line.
Furthermore, the Islanders find themselves with an issue older than the management in place — faceoffs.
Of the five Islanders who have at least a 50 percent success rate in the faceoff dot, only Casey Cizikas and the aforementioned Filppula are centers. Josh Bailey leads the team with a 53.95 percent success rate, which is excellent, save for the fact that his typical role is on the wing.
With the unlikelihood that any of the five centers on the Bridgeport Sounds Tigers’ roster see NHL ice time, Lamoriello has these options to consider ahead of the February 25 trade deadline.
Not much has gone well for the Los Angeles Kings since their last Stanley Cup championship in 2014.
Since hoisting their last Stanley Cup, the Kings have fired Dean Lombardi, two different head coaches, and won a total of one playoff game in two separate appearances.
It seems that this season is finally time for the Kings to begin their daunting rebuild. This will inevitably include transitioning away from the players which brought them prior success.
Injuries have derailed his last two seasons, but historically speaking, Jeff Carter comes up big when needed most.
His last 30-goal campaign was just two years ago, and though he’s undoubtedly slowing down in production the seasoned veteran is still good for at least 20 goals and 40 points — an ideal third line center with the kind of postseason experience the Islanders are looking for (39 goals, 74 points in 120 playoff games).
Most notably, his faceoff numbers are consistently above average. This season, Carter is winning 52 percent of his dot battles, with potential for that number to rise given the potential matchups the Islanders could have him in.
At 34 years old, Carter’s contract runs for another three additional seasons after this which will see him make a little over $5 million per year. With just under $10 million to play with (and that number is expected to rise this offseason) the Islanders can more than handle it.
Lamoriello loves his veterans and the experience they bring, so a move for a depth center, a playoff performer and a two-time Cup champion is a perfect fit.
Much like Carter’s Kings, Jaden Schwartz’s St. Louis Blues find themselves on the outside looking into the playoff race.
Heading into the season, the Blues were the most improved NHL team.
The additions of Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak, Patrick Maroon among others bolstered an already strengthened offense, and given Jake Allen’s showing the last couple seasons, the Blues were destined for a Central Division title push.
Now five points removed from the final wild-card spot, the Blues are in a precarious spot.
They more than enough talent to make a strong push in the second half, but the Blues have been known to sell at the deadline even in the midst of a successful season.
Two years ago at the 2017 trade deadline, the Blues shipped pending UFA Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals and still went on to play in the second round of the postseason that year.
Last year, Doug Armstrong sent Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets and the Blues still pushed for a playoff spot until the very last game of the season.
What’s done at this year’s deadline is anyone’s guess, but the history shows that Armstrong will not shy away from any move to his hockey club regardless of the circumstances.
Like his team, Jaden Schwartz’s 2018-19 season hasn’t gone as planned. After making his way on and off the IR once more, Schwartz hasn’t found the consistency he’s had in years prior.
Though he has a respectable 20 points through 35 games, his scoring pace has slowed down considerably and it’s unlikely he comes close to matching last season’s 24-goal total.
Unlike the aforementioned Carter, Schwartz is nearly a full decade younger at 26 years old with plenty of offensive production still in the tank. In four of the previous five seasons, Schwartz scored at least 50 points and averaged about 20 goals.
One solution to struggling players with patterns of success is a change in scenery, and Schwartz has a spot waiting for him.
Things in Edmonton have gone from bad to bleak in an instant.
Three-straight losses at home forced the hand of Bob Nicholson and the others in the Oilers front office to fire Peter Chiarelli sooner rather than later.
A new direction is needed in Edmonton, and according to Nicholson’s press conference, the Oilers will not make trades that mortgage the future of the club.
With that in mind, this may take a bit of magic from the Isles part, and likely a couple more prospects than fans may like, but the return is undeniably worth it.
Nuge has solidified himself in the NHL as a reliable 20-goal, 50-point scorer and at 25 years old there’s still tremendous upside for him. In a slightly more diminished role on the Islanders, there’s a good chance for Nuge’s production to tick upwards.
While his faceoff numbers may not be as desirable than someone like Carter, Nuge has the advantage in terms of age and the potential to further develop in a market with a lot less pressure given the Isles success.
Given the Oilers’ lack of depth scoring, pencil this potential acquisition into a bit more of a longshot, but one worth exploring given the Isles assets on-hand.
Last season, the name Jean-Gabriel Pageau came up when dissecting potential fixes to the ineffectiveness of the 2017-18 Islanders’ bottom-six.
Had Pageau not had health issues prior to the start of the season, he would have easily topped this list of appealing options for depth scoring.
The now 26-year-old center is finally healthy once more, and eight games into his return he already notched a goal. Mind you, after missing training camp and having not skated through the entire first half of the season, this is a notable accomplishment compared to others who have returned in similar situations.
One of the biggest reasons for his desirability is his faceoff numbers, which are obscene compared to the Isles’ best thus far, winning over 50 percent through the last four-straight seasons.
When the Senators made their surprise run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2017, Pageau was a large influence behind the upset over the New York Rangers.
In three playoff runs which span 35 games, Pageau has accumulated 12 goals, 16 points, and two-career hat tricks.
The Senators are attempting to retain pending free agent Matt Duchene, and while they will certainly have the cap to keep him, it will be interesting to monitor if they feel the need to move on from others for either roster or cap concerns.
What ultimately happens at the deadline remains to be seen, and Lamoriello is keeping an air-tight seal on anything pertaining to potential moves this February.
Let the anticipation begin.