Published On: Sat, Feb 10th, 2018

Barzal and Tavares should motivate Islanders to make moves at deadline

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The New York Islanders have two of the very best players in the NHL at a combined cap hit of $6.36 million, but they’re on the verge of wasting such a rare luxury.

Everyone knows John Tavares is one of the game’s elite players, but it’s also time to start using the “E” word for rookie sensation Mathew Barzal.

Coming off his third five-point night this season (in one of the craziest hockey games in recent memory), Barzal now has 58 points in 56 games, and the Isles hold the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference by a single point.

Fringe playoff teams generally struggle to put the puck in the net, but the Isles are an exception.

Team Points GF/G (rank)
Wild 64 2.94 (12th)
Flames 64 2.80 (20th)
Ducks 64 2.77 (22nd)
Avalanche 62 3.15 (7th)
Devils 62 2.94 (13th)
Flyers 61 2.91 (14th)
Islanders 60 3.36 (3rd)
Hurricanes 59 2.64 (24th)
Blue Jackets 58 2.50 (29th)

The Islanders are in an unusual situation: They have a prolific offense, and they are in win-now mode (unlike the Avs), but they don’t have a clear path toward the postseason.

Why does this matter? Well, frankly, it is much easier to make a significant improvement to your team defensively at the trade deadline than it is offensively. And the Islanders have a lot of holes defensively.

On a per-game basis, they rank dead last in goals against, save percentage, shots against, scoring chances against, and high-danger scoring chances against (the latter two at five-on-five, per Natural Stat Trick).

The Isles are merely a goaltender and a blue-liner or two away from being a team that nobody would want to face in the playoffs. A bit more defensive structure wouldn’t hurt, either. Despite this, general manager Garth Snow seems disinclined to make the necessary trade deadline push.

Snow has recently said he’s “comfortable” with the team’s goaltending situation, and isn’t interested in trading high picks for rental players.

What Snow has on his hands is a situation every GM and head coach covets: an offense that is never out of a game. Failing to address the team’s defensive needs would be a colossal management error, and not just because he’d be passing up the chance to turn the Islanders into a legit contender; if Snow doesn’t make a push, Tavares may be less inclined to sign a long-term extension with a team that doesn’t appear to prioritize winning.

Snow has no excuses, either. Thanks to the haul he received from the Calgary Flames for Travis Hamonic this offseason, the Islanders have two first-round picks, and two second-round picks in the upcoming draft – plenty of ammunition to make deadline moves without mortgaging the future.

Furthermore, the Islanders project to have nearly $7 million in deadline cap space, per Cap Friendly. If they’re able to sign Tavares long term, his $5.5-million cap hit might double. Barzal is on the first year of his entry-level contract. The time to strike is now, while cap space isn’t an issue.

While the Islanders could explore many avenues to improving their goal prevention, the Detroit Red Wings – the Isles’ opponent in their most recent game – seem like an ideal trade partner. Not only are the Wings rebuilding, but they have two solid goaltenders, and the top rental defenseman available. Here’s a possible trade scenario:

Islanders receive Red Wings receive
D Mike Green 2018 1st-rd pick
G Petr Mrazek 2018 2nd-rd pick
RW Josh Ho-Sang
G Linus Soderstrom

Related: Red Wings should deal thriving Mrazek to cement high draft pick

Ho-Sang is in need of a fresh start, and Soderstrom, a goaltending prospect, is struggling mightily this season in Sweden after a strong 2016-17. Mrazek‘s overall numbers aren’t pretty, but he’s played great lately, and at 25 years old, could be more than a short-term solution. He and Jaroslav Halak would form a solid duo.

In a corresponding move, the Isles would place Thomas Greiss ($3.3-million cap hit) and his 4.03 goals-against average on waivers, then bury him in the minors for the rest of the season when he goes unclaimed.

Green, meanwhile, would solidify a shaky blue line and help an already potent power play. With him on the back end, the team’s defensive corps suddenly doesn’t look that bad.

Nick Leddy Johnny Boychuk
Calvin de Haan Mike Green
Thomas Hickey Adam Pelech/Ryan Pulock

The Islanders could also add another defenseman in a separate trade to upgrade from Pelech/Pulock. If you’re going all in, might as well do it right.

A first- and second-round pick plus a prospect might be enough to land Ryan McDonagh ($4.7M cap hit through 2018-19), though trading with a regional rival seems unlikely. It’s possible the Arizona Coyotes could make Niklas Hjalmarsson ($4.1M through 2018-19) available. Otherwise, a veteran rental could do the trick.

Would these moves make the Islanders Stanley Cup favorites? No, but if they played to their ability, they would certainly be capable of upsetting a team such as the Washington Capitals in the first round. With two of the most dynamic centers in the league on your team, almost anything is possible. Snow needs to take full advantage while they’re both vastly underpaid.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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