Islanders at the break: Bo Horvat helps, but more moves needed
Lou Lamoriello knew he needed to improve his Islanders, and the sooner the better. So he acquired high-scoring Canucks captain Bo Horvat as a welcome-back present for when the team resumes playing after the All-Star break/bye week.
But the president/general manager almost certainly still has roster work to do to increase the team’s playoff chances. Plus, he’ll be busy trying to sign Horvat to a lengthy and pricey contract extension. If Horvat leaves as an unrestricted free agent, the organization’s future has once again been very much mortgaged to buttress the current core group.
It cost Lamoriello top forward prospect Aatu Raty, underperforming left wing Anthony Beauvillier and a top-12 protected first-round pick this year that can slide to an unprotected pick next year. The Islanders have not picked in the first round since 2019 and trading Raty only weakens their prospect pool.
But Horvat, 27, had 31 goals and 23 assists in 49 games for the Canucks, including 11 goals and seven assists on the power play, as he completes a six-year, $33 million deal. He instantly becomes the Islanders' leader in goals, points (54), power-play goals and power-play points (18)
That production is sorely needed after the Islanders (25-22-5) went 4-8-3 in January and scored just 29 goals, including two or fewer in seven straight games and 12 of their last 13. Their power play is 0-for-25 over their last 10 games and 3-for-64 since Dec. 10.
The Islanders, who next play in Philadelphia on Monday, are in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, just two points behind the Penguins for the final playoff spot. But both the Penguins and the ninth-place Sabres have played three fewer games.
Per HockeyReference.com, the Islanders have just a 15.4% chance of qualifying for the playoffs and a 0.5% chance of winning their first Stanley Cup since 1983. Acquiring Horvat did not move the needle forward in those calculations.
The All-Star center may not be enough to single-handedly solve the Islanders' scoring issues. Lamoriello will likely see if he can acquire a scoring wing, now that he’s made his intentions clear that he’s still in win-now mode (To be fair, Lamoriello has never believed in rebuilding).
Per CapFriendly.com, the Islanders are projected to have approximately $11 million in prorated salary-cap space at the NHL trade deadline on March 3. So there’s room to bring in more help, if not necessarily a wealth of assets to be offered to potential trade partners.
Lamoriello is not a fan of bringing in trade rentals and he made clear his intentions to work out a contract extension with Horvat. But trade rentals are potentially cheaper. For instance, Flyers left wing James van Riemsdyk, who could help both among the top-six forwards and on the power play.
For now, it’s up to coach Lane Lambert to figure out how to best deploy his five centers: Horvat, Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Casey Cizikas. Nelson’s line with Anders Lee and Kyle Palmieri was doing practically all the scoring before the break.
Seeing if Horvat and Barzal can work together only makes sense.
But no matter how well that may work, Lamoriello likely still has work to do.