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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

The future can wait: Isles' trade is a no-brainer, win-now move

Kyle Palmieri #21 of the Islanders in action

Kyle Palmieri #21 of the Islanders in action the against the Philadelphia Flyers during their game at Nassau Coliseum on April 8, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Al Bello

The NHL Draft begins on July 23, a distant epoch after the Stanley Cup is awarded and (perhaps) life has returned to relative, vaccinated normal.

No first-round pick for the Islanders? They’ll live, especially if that pick is near the bottom of the draft order.

All that matters is now, and the coming three months, when the Islanders must do anything possible to make another run at a championship.

Hence the no-brainer deal famed hockey impresario Lou Lamoriello made on Wednesday, the headline being the trading of this year’s first-rounder to the Devils for two useful free-agent-to-be rentals: Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac.

Lamoriello is 78. Coach Barry Trotz is 58. Nassau Coliseum is 49. The number of players age 30 or over on the roster is well into double digits, with Palmieri, 30, and Zajac, 35, now joining that club.

Why wait? When Anders Lee went down with a season-ending knee injury a month ago, Lamoriello indicated he would act before the April 12 trade deadline, most likely eyeing a short-term fix rather than a long-term deal that might gum up the payroll.

And here we are. On brand, Lamoriello turned to players he knows well, especially Zajac, whom he drafted for the Devils in 2004, when Noah Dobson and Oliver Wahlstrom were 4 years old.

Lamoriello always puts a premium on character and chemistry, even more so given the need for the new guys to bond immediately, and by all accounts, Palmieri and Zajac are those sorts of guys.

"I know what they bring on the ice," the general manager said. "I also know who they are as people and how well they’ll fit in the locker room here."

Lamoriello said he felt he owed it to the team to add reinforcements given how well it reacted to Lee’s absence. The coach and players appreciated it.

"It’s a good message for our team, and now it’s on us," said defenseman (and former Devils captain) Andy Greene.

Said Trotz, "It also says a lot about the statement that management and ownership has made to us coaches and players, that we feel we have a strong team and we feel that if we get in, we can make some noise."

Lamoriello still has some cap money to play with, but he said, "We’re pretty much content with what we have and who we have right now. In fact, extremely comfortable."

With that, Lamoriello left things to Trotz, who now has more line-making flexibility. On Thursday, he had Zajac and Palmieri together on a line with Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

Trotz dubbed the new guys’ debuts "fine" and said he wanted to ease them in, in part by keeping them together and not disrupting other line combinations.

Palmieri’s subplot is that he was born in Smithtown in 1991 and still has ties to Long Island despite growing up mostly in New Jersey. He has a summer home in Mattituck and family in Commack and Hauppauge. The guy even is Bud Harrelson’s godson!

When the trade was announced, he said he "couldn’t have been more excited."

After Thursday’s victory, he spoke of the 24-hour whirlwind, of being welcomed warmly by his new team, and of having to shave his beard to comply with Lamoriello’s rules about facial hair.

"Yeah, first razor I’ve bought, I think, since college," he said, adding, "I’m excited to be here, excited to shave probably every day here."

The Islanders are in first place in the East Division; the Devils are in seventh.

"I wanted a chance to win, and I just believe this is a team that has all the aspects of a winning hockey team," said Zajac, who had the contractual right to refuse to move.

Hockey being hockey, there is no telling what direction the playoffs will take. But the Islanders had to charge into them fully stocked, July 23 and beyond be darned.

  

New York Sports