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The Potential Moves of the First-Place Islanders

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The Potential Moves of the First-Place Islanders

The Islanders have work to do if they want to improve. (Courtesy of Flickr)

The Islanders have work to do if they want to improve. (Courtesy of Flickr)

The Islanders have work to do if they want to improve. (Courtesy of Flickr)

The Islanders have work to do if they want to improve. (Courtesy of Flickr)


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By Andrew Becker

This week, the Islanders continued to play a strong brand of hockey which allowed them to keep a five-point lead over the Metropolitan division. After a couple of tough shootout losses to Chicago and Tampa at the beginning of the month, the Islanders went on to win six of their last eight, with both losses contained to a two-goal margin. The team still claims the top defensive stat in the league, with the least amount of goals against given up by any club this season to date. With that said, the defense seems to be shored up, and will only become stronger once injured Thomas Hickey soon returns. This will make one tough decision for coach Barry Trotz, as the back end, no matter who is playing on a given night, always puts up a great performance. This is exemplified by the fact that they have given up more than two goals only six times in the past two months. Instead, in a majority of their games, the Islanders have been limiting opponents to one goal, that is unless they shut them out, which is also becoming a regular occurrence as well.

With that said, the Islanders look to continue their defensive strength down the season’s stretch, and improve on other aspects of their play. One desperately needed improvement is on the other end of the ice: scoring. It is amazing to see a team win so many 2-1 games, but the Isles have been able to keep pace, even with the lack of offense. Their captain, Anders Lee, tallied his first goal in over a month on Saturday in Edmonton. Despite this fact, Lee is the top goal scorer on the Isles with 19 goals and finds himself ranked 63rd in the league. How can a club sustain a first place position when, according to NHL.com, they are 21st in goals for league-wide? It really confirms the old saying “Defense wins championships.” While yes, it is true the structure Trotz has brought to the team has been so valuable, it is one that calls for quality opportunities instead of quantity. That is not a bad thing, however, as it shows in the Isles’ fifth-place ranking in the NHL standings. Nonetheless, not to the fault of Trotz, the team needs to make an improvement on the front end to really give this team the edge it deserves come playoff time. The change the Isles will be looking for would come directly from the office of Lou Lamoriello.

The current general manager has done an incredible job building an under the cover solid roster in the absence of John Tavares. Now he will look to further bolster it come the NHL trade deadline next Monday. Lamoriello is a smart competitor. He is happy with the team he has built to date, and has lowered trade expectations to the media. We also know though that this was a play down by him, in case the best opportunity does not present by Feb. 25. All the insiders who know Lamoriello, however, also know that he will be looking not to sit back but to make a big play if that is the smart and right thing to do for the Isles. His eyes have to be on the likes of Matt Duchene, as the team is in need of center depth. Although, in my opinion, the team is fine with the likes of Brock Nelson, as he may be better suited to play wing alongside the struggling Barzal line. This may be something to consider, although it is not Nelson’s traditional position, in order to keep all the powerhouses in the lineup, and give Barzal a bigger winger to work with.

Currently, Barzal is playing alongside the likes of Anthony Beauvillier, and either rookie Michael Dal Colle, who has been playing okay, or Tom Kuhnhackl, who has also inserted himself into the line-up nicely. The problem is that both Kuhnhackl and Dal Colle are not true elite wingers and are not the best fits with Barzal. Beauvillier has been struggling lately as well, with only a few breakthroughs on the score sheet. His hands and speed are enticing, however, and a turn-around is hopeful. Nonetheless, if the Isles get Ottawa to accept a trade, for say, Dal Colle, a first, and if needed, their future second-round pick (from Calgary), the team would benefit greatly. First and foremost, there is an immediate asset up the middle who can win faceoffs, take pressure off Barzal, play with Lee and Eberle, and most importantly add more goals. This would allow Nelson to slide to the Barzal line and put up the points there, thus helping out Barzal even more. Although the price may seem steep, the Isles may be able to maintain Calgary’s second rounder and let go of the first considering the monster draft they had this offseason taking claim to some of the best prospects the organization has.

On top of this, the Islanders can finally part ways with Josh Ho-Sang, which is a shame considering he just did not fit with them. He could restart somewhere else and the Isles can add more depth up-front with someone like Marcus Johanson and a lower draft pick from New Jersey. This may be the best move. Although some fans are more inclined to want Panarin, who is a pure winger that could be a powerplay component, he is too much of a risk and cost as a rental only player, as he has stated no matter who he plays for, by seasons end, he will test the free agent market.

Duchene encompasses most of Panarin’s skillset anyway, but he may be more inclined to re-sign by years end; considering he only wants a winning culture, which is a drastic change from Ottawa, but it is one that Trotz can provide. Panarin already has the wins in Columbus and is looking for more term and money. The Isles have this but may not be willing to give up assets for such a risk. That is why Panarin will be an offseason target for the Islanders, even if they have Duchene, because the money and cap space are both there. A team with Barzal, Panarin and Duchene, lead by Lee and Trotz at the helm would be a fan’s dream come true!

It may happen with Lamoriello, although no one can be certain, but one thing is for sure: the Islanders will look to add at the trade deadline to deal with the needs on offense.

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