TORONTO — The one-year anniversary of Bo Horvat’s arrival from the Canucks passed on Tuesday. The acquisition of last season’s All-Star center dramatically bolstered the Islanders’ top line and gave their current All-Star Mathew Barzal the best playmaking linemate of the converted right wing’s career. But the team still finds itself very much in the same spot headed toward this season’s NHL trade deadline on March 8.
That is, the Islanders are struggling to earn a playoff spot — having replaced fired coach Lane Lambert with the fiery Patrick Roy — and still need a scoring wing for their top six. Plus, with injuries to Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech and Robert Bortuzzo, they could use another defenseman.
But the asset pool for president/general manger Lou Lamoriello to swing a big deal is diminished. He’s traded away four straight first-round picks — Simon Holmstrom, in 2019, is their last first-rounder — to net Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Kyle Palmieri, defenseman Alexander Romanov and Horvat.
Plus, the Islanders’ prospect pool is lightly regarded around the NHL. Keeping the pick and adding a first-round talent would help there.
But the 81-year-old Lamoriello’s obvious conundrum is without dealing that first-round pick, a major-impact upgrade may be highly unlikely.
Horvat, Barzal, defenseman Noah Dobson and goalies Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov are untouchables to Lamoriello. He has seven more players on the NHL roster with either no-trade or modified no-trade clauses. Former first-rounder Oliver Wahlstrom has next to no trade value now. The pending unrestricted free agents are Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin but dealing either of those grinders is unlikely.
Holmstrom and his ability to score shorthanded goals could draw interest, but he would have to be part of a deal to bring in a more impactful player.
Lamoriello included Aatu Raty, at the time the organization’s best forward prospect, to acquire Horvat and that has worked out just fine for the Islanders with Raty still playing for the Canucks’ AHL affiliate.
Defensemen Calle Odelius, Zachary Schulz and Isaiah George and forwards Danny Nelson, William Dufour, Matthew Maggio, Ruslan Iskhakov and Eetu Liukas may be the Islanders’ most tradeable prospects. But there is real debate as to whether any of them projects to be more than just a depth NHLer or how much value another organization would assign to them.
Potential trade targets that could be moved include Flames defensemen Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev, Blues defenseman Colton Parayko, Senators defenseman Jakob Chychrun, Predators defenseman Tyson Barrie (Hello Nashville GM Barry Trotz, this is Lou, your old boss, calling…), Ducks forwards Adam Henrique (who played for Lamoriello with the Devils) and Frank Vatrano and Sharks right wings Anthony Duclair and Mike Hoffman (whose offensive style would fit better under Roy than it would have under Lambert or Trotz).
The Islanders could gain flexibility against the $83.5 million salary cap ceiling if Pelech — who has a suspected head injury for the second straight season — and his $5.75 million cap hit are placed on long-term injured reserve.
Lamoriello is always pulling surprises, Roy’s hiring being the latest. So despite all the above stated reasons a deal might be difficult to swing, that’s different from stating a trade won’t be made.
From the pod
Recently-enshrined Hall of Famer Pierre Turgeon, who played for the Islanders from 1991-95, was the guest on Newsday’s Island Ice podcast episode 178. He discussed his longstanding friendship with new Islanders coach Patrick Roy, what it was like to play against the Hall of Fame goalie and what it was like to be his teammate with the Canadiens.
“I’ve known Patrick since I was 18,” Turgeon said. “We had the same agent, Pierre Lacroix was our agent. So we got to be very close. We used to have dinners after games. I do have a lot of respect for Pat. So when I got to Montreal, it was easy. We just drove together all the time. And I lived right beside Pat.
“I was only there for a year and a half and then Patrick’s situation happened and he got traded to the Colorado Avalanche. I wish I would have played a little longer with him. You know when you have a goalie like this, there’s a chance you could win the Stanley Cup.”
Midseason hire Patrick Roy inherited predecessor Lane Lambert’s staff of assistants John MacLean and Doug Houda, goalie coach Piero Greco and director of goaltending Mitch Korn.
He added a familiar face on Friday with the hiring of Benoit Desrosiers, 35, who was coaching Gatineau of the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League after serving as Roy’s assistant for five seasons with Quebec (QMJHL).
Roy, like every NHL coach, wants to shape his own staff. Which, for now, means forging a relationship with Lambert’s holdovers.
“They’re very easy to work with,” Roy said. “I know it’s tough when a coaching change happens. I just feel like they were very professional. I played a lot against Mac and Dougie.
“As much as I want to create a partnership with the players, it’s also a partnership with them. Everyone is involved. There’s only one voice. It’s important to me when we leave that coaching room, we cover everything. Because when we go on the ice, it’s not the Patrick Roy show. It’s the coaching staff’s show where we all have to be ready.”
By the numbers
The Islanders, who resume their season on Monday on the road against the Maple Leafs, have 33 games remaining. Here’s a breakdown:
11 – Against Metropolitan Division (Rangers 4; Devils, Penguins 2; Blue Jackets, Flyers, Hurricanes 1)
22 – Against Eastern Conference
19 – Against teams currently holding a playoff spot
16 – Home
17 – Away