Isles Trade Speculation

The trade deadline is less than three weeks away and for what is a rare occurrence in recent years, the Islanders are in a position to potentially “buy” and not “sell” before March 2nd.  While the rumor mill is heating up around the league, it is time to re-assess what the Islanders may be thinking leading up to the deadline as they prepare for a playoff run.

Backup Goalie

This was a hot and heavy discussion as recently as Saturday when Chad Johnson finally played an exceptional game in net and cracked the .900 save percentage for the first time in one of his starts since November 6th.  Johnson stopped 34 of 36 shots against the Boston Bruins, the second time this season where he played well against his former team.  The outing wasn’t enough to get the win, but the silver lining of the night was Johnson’s strong play and possibly re-finding of his game.

It is no secret Johnson has been bad this season.  He has a 6-7-0 record with a 3.33 goals against average and .873 save percentage.  Most fans weren’t realistically expecting Johnson to post numbers similar to what he did in Boston last season (17-4-3, 2.10 goals against average, .925 save percentage), but a save percentage above .900 and goals against average under three didn’t appear to be too much to ask.  How wrong we were.

It’s not just Johnson’s play that hurts the Islanders in the standings, but the lack of confidence displayed by the coaching staff in him has led to Jaroslav Halak to start the bulk of games recently and has him on pace to set a career high in games started.  However it looks like Halak has been losing steam recently and while every fan wants to see the team win all their games, the goal now must be to ensure Halak is fresh for April. 

If the coaching staff doesn’t have the confidence to start Johnson 8-10 times over these final 30 games, then Garth Snow needs to look outside the organization for help.  Yes, Johnson’s guaranteed contract next season is assuredly a factor to consider, but Snow’s actions has made it clear that the team needs to win this season and if that means benching Johnson, then so be it. 

Keep an eye on Buffalo’s Jhonas Enroth, Toronto’s James Reimer, and Edmonton’s Ben Scrivens as potential trade targets for the Islanders.  Just as long as we don't see Kevin Poulin again.

Top Line Winger

This has gained some steam recently with Kyle Okposo on the shelf for at least the next month with a detached retina.  Every team would love to add a top winger if they could, but the reality is the prices to acquire that player right now would be astronomical and quite frankly, the Islanders probably don’t have the draft picks necessary to entice a “seller” to move a huge piece to them.

No draft picks you say?  Well, after last year’s trade for Thomas Vanek and the summer acquisition of Johnny Boychuk, the Islanders are left without a first or second round pick in this year’s draft.  Yes, they have some highly touted prospects in Ryan Pulock, Michael Dal Colle, and Griffin Reinhart to dangle, but it would be surprising to see Snow move significant assets to upgrade the wing position.  The team is going to need cheap depth in the upcoming seasons as more of its young veterans become free agents and tough decisions on who to keep and who to jettison pop up. In a hard-cap league, cheap talent is vital to ensure long-term success.

Another issue is how much in salary a top winger would cost?  The most rumored names out there are Taylor Hall and Phil Kessel.  Both are elite talents who would put up monster numbers playing shotgun to John Tavares.  But both players carry salary cap charges between $6 million and $8 million over the next several seasons.  For an organization infamous for pinching pennies, it would seem out of character for them to break the bank for a winger like that with Tavares set to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2017 season.

Would most fans be willing to move Pulock, Dal Colle, a roster player and possibly a high draft pick next season for one of those guys?  It’s tempting, but doesn’t seem in line with how Snow has held on to many of his draft picks (with one notable exception) over recent seasons.

This target seems more like a pipe dream that would be a jolt of energy for the club and fan base, but at a cost that would probably be too steep in terms of players and money.  The smart money is on the team looking at mid-tier players such as Jaromir Jagr who shouldn’t cost more than a mid-round draft pick or average prospect. 

Depth Defenseman

This is a need that has become more and more prevalent in recent games as injuries (Lubomir Visnovsky, Calvin de Haan) and poor play (Brian Strait, Thomas Hickey) have begun to bite the Islanders.  The top three of Boychuk, Nick Leddy, and Travis Hamonic have been steady most of the season and provided the Islanders with stability at the position. However the rest of the group have serious question marks and it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Garth Snow to see what is available.

Defensemen, even marginal ones, tend to cost a premium price as the trade deadline nears.  The Islanders know this all too well as they were able to net two-second round draft picks for Andrew MacDonald last season from the Flyers.

Players like Zbynek Michalek, Andrew Ference, and Andrej Sekera are all rumored to be available. While any of those three would provide some much needed depth and boost to the bottom pairing, again, cost will be the determining factor as to whether any of them will eventually end up in blue and orange.  Of course there are probably a dozen playoff hopefuls that could use those three guys and any other defenseman currently rumored to be available, so unless Garth Snow is ready for a bidding war, he’d be better off to hold off on acquiring any of the “name” defensemen available and hope the prices for the depth guys drop significantly as the deadline approaches. 

As fans know, the next few weeks leading up to the trade deadline figures to be filled with plenty of rumors, wild speculation, and excitement as the team gears up for an extended playoff run.  And as we’ve seen already, one injury can change strategy real quick.  So the best advice is to enjoy the next few weeks and dream of the team adding that one final piece for a playoff run, but to also remember that sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make.

Make sure to follow me on Twitter @mikepac23 for my Islander thoughts and follow @TCLIsles for Islander news and analysis.