One of the strengths of this New York Islanders team over the past four seasons has been their strong goaltending and steady defensive play. Since the firing of former head coach Barry Trotz, this hasn’t been the case. Thursday night’s matchup against the Vancouver Canucks was a prime example of the defensive struggles they have faced this season. Not only did they blow a two-goal lead in the third period, they also managed to give up the puck 23 times to the Canucks.
Head coach Lane Lambert was not a happy camper after Thursday’s loss. “It’s unacceptable at this point. I saw a lot of mistakes being made, a lot of individual turnovers — 23 giveaways. You’re not going to win a hockey game doing that,” Lambert said. “There were plays to be made, and we didn’t make them tonight.” (from ‘Islanders collapse against Canucks in “disconnected” and “unacceptable” defeat,’ The Athletic, 2/10/23) It was a night where the Islanders were outplayed for most of the game but still managed to hold a lead for the majority of it until their late collapse.
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With the 2023 Trade Deadline approaching, Islanders’ general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello needs to evaluate whether this roster is good enough to contend for a playoff spot. One thing that is for sure after Thursday’s loss is the Islanders need serious defensive help. Alexander Romanov was the only defensive acquisition from Lamoriello in the offseason and he has really struggled lately.
The Big Fish Remaining
There is quite the selection of available defensemen around the NHL. The big issue is that after the trade for Bo Horvat, the Islanders don’t have a huge selection of assets available. The big fish on the market would be Jakob Chychrun from the Arizona Coyotes, but the cost has been reportedly through the roof. According to Pierre Lebrun of The Athletic, the cost is two first-round draft picks and a top prospect. (from ‘NHL Trade Board’, The Athletic, 1/30/23) The Islanders sent their first-rounder in the deal for Horvat and also one of their top prospects (Aatu Raty) in the same deal. It’s highly unlikely Lamoriello has the assets to deal for Chychrun, but sometimes with Lou, you just never know.
In order for the Islanders to trade for someone like Chychrun, the potential package could be along the lines of a 2024 first-round pick, William Dufour, and either another first-round pick or top prospect. The only way the Islanders may even consider making a move like this is if they can sway the Coyotes to take on a high-money contract such as Josh Bailey, but that it is very unlikely. Although Lamoriello and Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong have made deals in the past, this is tough for the Islanders to complete.
One other name to keep an eye on is Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Vladisov Gavrikov. The strong 6-foot-3 blueliner is having a strong season despite playing on a bad team. He has played more minutes than any other defenseman on the team and has a lower cap hit of only $2.8 million. Gavrikov would be the ideal target for the Islanders based on his age, size, and his ability to play in the top four. Lamoriello has a long history of not trading for rentals at the deadline and the Jackets are reportedly looking for a package similar to the one they got for David Savard two years ago at the deadline.
The name that makes the most sense for the Islanders is Shayne Gostisbehere of the Coyotes. The Islanders’ biggest need on the blue line is someone that can start the rush by carrying the puck up the ice and creating plays. Other than Noah Dobson, the Islanders severely lack a puck-moving defensemen. Gostisbehere notched 51 points last year for the Coyotes and has plenty of experience on the power play. He is on his last year of a six-year deal that he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers back in 2017. He would be an ideal trade candidate for the Islanders because of his offensive talent, and it wouldn’t cost as much as Gavrikov or Chychrun. The Islanders could probably offer the Coyotes a mid-level pick plus a mid-level prospect and that should be enough assets.
Some other names Lamoriello could target to upgrade the blue line are Luke Schenn, John Klingberg, or Matt Dumba. The big questions surrounding all of these moves is what can the Islanders afford to give up? The prospect pool is very thin, and the team has traded their first-round pick four consecutive seasons. Lamoriello has proven that he believes in this group and is willing to give up top assets to get better. If he really wants to make sure the Islanders go on a long playoff run, he must do whatever it takes to improve the defensive corp.