Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello observes practice during training camp...

Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello observes practice during training camp at the Northwell Health Ice Center on Jan. 12, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Most Islanders fans have stopped reading the NHL standings and started reading NHL trade rumors, which makes good sense.

Should Lou Lamoriello be a "seller" leading up to the March 21 trade deadline? To borrow a quote from Islanders fans: "Yes! Yes! Yes!"

But this is a more nuanced situation than the one that often faces struggling teams late in lost seasons.

That was illustrated at UBS Arena on Saturday, where the Islanders played without two of their top three goals-scorers in Anders Lee and Mathew Barzal yet secured an impressive 2-1 victory over a good Blues team.

It likely is too late for that to matter in making the playoffs. But it does matter as Lamoriello assesses what he has and what he needs.

The team president was blunt in an interview in Denver on Tuesday in admitting how disappointing this season has been, but he also said, "I have a real strong belief in this core, there’s no question of that."

Lamoriello also has a real strong belief in not "rebuilding" his rosters but rather tweaking them.

Taking all of that into account, the Islanders’ course over the next couple of weeks seems clear: Sell, but do not announce a clearance sale.

Goaltender Semyon Varlamov probably has the most trade value, and with the emergence of Ilya Sorokin as the clear No. 1, Varlamov will not be worth the $5 million he is due in 2022-23.

Unrestricted free agents-to-be such as Cal Clutterbuck — especially Clutterbuck — Zach Parise, Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene might be of interest to one or more playoff contenders.

And who knows what other trade magic Lamoriello might be able to swing as he works a roster that recently has shown flashes of the team that reached back-to-back NHL semifinals — even if it has not always resulted in points?

"It’s huge," Casey Cizikas said. "We’ve done that for a little bit now. To prove to ourselves that we can play a full 60 [minutes], defensive-oriented and getting timely goals when we needed to, it’s big for our confidence."

Said Ryan Pulock, "I think tonight felt right . . . I think we’re a better team than the standings, and that’s on us. We haven’t been good enough consistently enough."

Sorting through how much of that is an anomaly in what has been a bizarre, disjointed season and how much is real is up to Lamoriello, coach Barry Trotz and their assistants.

But it says here that the Islanders have enough pieces to reasonably expect to return to contention next season — and also that they have flaws that must be addressed.

They must get younger and faster. They need an elite goal-scorer. A good puck-moving defenseman would be a nice touch, too.

Easier said than done. But one silver lining in this dud of a campaign is that it will afford some freedom to make moves without the short-term worry about how to finally get past the Lightning come late spring.

So "sell" it is. But the Islanders need to keep themselves together on and off the ice in the meantime. Trotz said before Saturday’s game that he is mindful of the trade rumors and tries to help players through that reality.

"If you get a sense, a vibe from a guy, you try to just go over as a coach-slash-friend sometimes, or a dad or whatever," he said, "and just say, ‘Hey, this is probably the reality,’ or, ‘Is it bothering you?’

"You have that conversation, because there’s a human aspect. There are families involved. There are emotions and all that. So you just try to support the player and then if anything happens, you try to come up with a positive of it."

Trotz said he so far has not sensed any of that weighing on his players. "We’ve just got to play," he said.

On Saturday, they did.

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