Kyle Palmieri is worried about his here and now with the Islanders. The offseason and where he will play next season are things the Smithtown-born wing is not thinking about, or at least not talking about.
That’s usually the case with many/most impending unrestricted free agents who have become trade rentals. Yet it’s a new experience for the 30-year-old Palmieri, who signed his expiring five-year, $23.25 million deal with the Devils a season after they acquired him from the Ducks, who selected him 26th overall in 2009.
"I think the first couple of weeks all you’re really focused on is fitting in and getting to know the guys and the systems and being an impact [player]," Palmieri said. "They brought me in for a reason and that’s to come in here and help this team win. That’s really all I’m focused on. The stuff coming up in the summer, that will take care of itself and we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
"Right now, I’m just excited to have the opportunity to help this team win games."
Palmieri, along with Travis Zajac, was acquired from the Devils on April 7 for a first-round pick in this year’s draft, a conditional fourth-round pick in 2022 and minor-leaguers A.J. Greer and Mason Jobst.
The Islanders would have to do financial gymnastics to afford him this offseason, given their salary-cap crunch against the flat, $81.5 million ceiling and the need to re-sign defenseman Adam Pelech, goalie Ilya Sorokin and Anthony Beauvillier, all restricted free agents. Casey Cizikas, defenseman Andy Greene, Palmieri, Zajac and newly-acquired defenseman Braydon Coburn will all be UFAs, though Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello has not ruled out trying to re-sign any or all of them.
Palmieri entered Saturday night’s game against the Capitals at Nassau Coliseum with power-play one goal and one assist in his first eight games with the Islanders.
He scored at least 24 goals in each of his five full seasons with the Devils and, even though his production had dipped this season before the trade with eight goals and nine assists in 34 games, he was expected to help the Islanders offset the season-ending injury to captain and top-line left wing Anders Lee.
That’s still the expectation. And, given the Islanders’ recent goal-scoring struggle with one or fewer goals scored in four of their last five games entering Saturday, it’s pretty much a need.
"That couple of days leading up to the trade, there’s a little bit of anxiousness not playing and not really being on the ice much," said Palmieri, who was held out of two Devils’ games as a precaution before he was traded. "It’s a bit of an adjustment to get to know some new guys and some new systems. Everyone’s been awesome here. I’ve been excited since Day 1 and that hasn’t worn off.
"I’m looking forward to these last [regular-season] games and what’s beyond that."
Palmieri meant the playoffs. The unknown beyond is not a concern until it comes.
Adam Pelech will soon reach 300 NHL games. Naturally, the defenseman found the Sharks’ Patrick Marleau passing Gordie Howe to play his NHL record-setting 1,768th game on Monday mind-boggling.
"The number seems astonishing," said Pelech, who played No. 295 on Saturday night against the Capitals. "Seventeen hundred games. It’s quite the achievement. He has the utmost respect around the league. So, it’s an amazing achievement. Congratulations to him. It’s really cool to see."
Howe’s record was, at one point, thought unbreakable, Islanders coach Barry Trotz is sure no one will top Marleau.
"Unless some cyborg comes into the league, that one’s Patrick’s for the rest of the history of this game," Trotz said. "That’s huge."
Marleau is 41. Howe was 52 in his final NHL game for the Hartford Whalers in 1980 and the NHL is not counting the 419 games Howe played in the WHA from 1973-79 before the leagues merged.
Capitals defenseman Zdeno Chara, 44, played in his 1,600th game on Saturday.
Shutout not a winner
Goalie Semyon Varlamov recorded his 32nd career shutout on Thursday. It was the first time he had lost one.
Varlamov made 28 saves but the Islanders lost a 1-0 shootout to the Capitals at Nassau Coliseum as the Capitals converted two of their three shootout attempts.
"It’s all about winning for me," Varlamov said. "I’d rather win 2-1 or 6-5 than a loss like that because it’s all about winning. It’s good for the stats when you don’t give up any goals. But, after the game, you go back home and you feel like you lost the game."