PHILADELPHIA – Of course, Barry Trotz understood what the immediate speculative reaction would be to impending unrestricted free agents Cal Clutterbuck and Andy Greene being held out of the Islanders’ lineup just before Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
The team announced shortly before faceoff of Sunday afternoon’s 2-1 loss to the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center the two veterans were day-to-day and out for maintenance. The coach insisted after the lackluster defeat that both really are banged up, as the team played on back-to-back days and for the fifth game in eight days.
Come Monday at 3 p.m., it will be known whether the speculation or Trotz was correct.
“They’re both on maintenance, they’re both banged up, that’s all it is,” Trotz said. “We were laughing about it. You guys [the media] would all be wanting a story. There’s no story there.”
The Islanders (26-25-9) had a two-game winning streak, a 5-0-1 run and an eight-game winning streak over the Flyers all snapped and failed to make up any ground in their double-digit point deficit to the Capitals for the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot.
The Islanders’ Ilya Sorokin made 35 saves. Kevin Hayes scored twice, including a power-play goal, and Carter Hart stopped 26 shots for the Flyers (20-31-11), who traded captain Claude Giroux to the Panthers on Saturday.
The statistical miracle it would take for the Islanders to reach the playoffs, even as they play their best hockey of the season, is why league-wide speculation has focused on Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello being a deadline seller.
“Clutter’s out for maintenance, that’s the truth,” captain Anders Lee said. “I know it’s maybe a little coincidental.”
“When the puck drops, [the game is] all you’re thinking off,” Josh Bailey said. “Those things are out of your control. Focus on what you can control and really don’t worry about the noise.”
Neither Clutterbuck nor Greene is likely to return a huge haul of prospects and/or draft picks if traded but Clutterbuck’s gritty, bottom-six game and penalty killing would bolster almost any playoff contender. Playoff contenders are also always seeking defense depth at this time of the season.
Zach Parise and defenseman Zdeno Chara – both in Sunday’s lineup – are the Islanders’ other impending UFAs. Both have likely indicated to president and general manager Lou Lamoriello they do not wish to be moved.
Goalie Semyon Varlamov, who made 37 saves in Saturday afternoon’s 4-2 win over the Stars at UBS Arena, could also draw attention. Varlamov’s four-year, $20 million deal runs through next season.
But Lee didn’t discount the players, through their recent winning play, were trying to convince Lamoriello not to alter the team’s makeup. The Islanders reached the playoffs in each of the first three seasons under Lamoriello and Trotz, including runs to the NHL semifinals the previous two seasons.
“It doesn’t need to be said,” Lee said. “We know what we have in this room and where we are this year and where we’ve been. We know it’s in that room and it’s there. Whatever it is that needs to happen, good hockey down the stretch, to put ourselves in a great position to build off of and continue that culture we have in this room of character and pride and hard work. You’ve seen that the last few weeks.”
Sebastian Aho drew into the lineup for Greene while Kieffer Bellows played in Clutterbuck’s usual fourth-line spot.
Casey Cizikas, who scored the lone Islanders’ goal and has been Clutterbuck’s linemate since 2014, was succinct when asked if he’d started to think about not having him as a teammate.
Check back Monday.