Even with the acquisition of Bo Horvat, the New York Islanders still need another top-six forward and another defenseman if they want to become serious Stanley Cup contenders.
As we sit here on Friday, the Islanders have 27 games before the 2022-23 season closes. They are tied in points with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have five games in hand, and are a point back of the Washington Capitals, who have two games in hand.
There are teams also closing in quickly.
New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello has a decision to make before March 3, the 2022-23 NHL Trade Deadline, which is 21 days from today.
Should he go all in and give this group one more chance at a Stanley Cup, or should he sell assets and recoup picks?
Some may say with the Horvat acquisition, Lamoriello already showed his cards. But Lamoriello was adamant in his press conference following the trade that it was not a move he made just for this season (a rental) but that he was getting a player in his prime at 27 that could help this team for years to come.
Lamoriello backed up his statement when he awarded Horvat an eight-year extension worth $68 million.
With the Islanders not in a playoff spot right now and with the disastrous 6-5 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday, the Islanders have hurt their chances of making the postseason, as does every loss from here on out.
Although anything is possible, Lamoriello should sell his pending unrestricted free agents at the trade deadline, and here’s why.
As mentioned, this group has more than one need, and they do not have the assets to go out and get that difference-maker right now.
They can certainly add depth at the forward position and on the backend, but it wouldn’t be for anyone that moves the needle.
Netminder Semyon Varlamov and defenseman Scott Mayfield are two pending unrestricted free agents, and there’s certainly a market.
Both players have voiced that they would love to stay with the organization, but that shouldn’t impact Lamoriello’s willingness to move them.
If they want to come back in free agency at a reasonable price, then capitalize on their value right now.
Semyon Varlamov has had a strong bounce-back season for the New York Islanders, with a 2.57 GAA and a .920 SV% in 17 appearances, and there are a few teams that could use him. The Islanders could get at least a second-round pick but might be able to get a first, especially if there is more than one team interested–which there should be.
The 34-year-old netminder has a 16-team no-trade clause in his contract, which carries a cap hit of $5 million.
The team that likely needs him the most is the Los Angeles Kings, who find themselves in the top wild-card spot in the West with a five-point lead over the Minnesota Wild. Jonathan Quick has been subpar, and backup turned starter Pheonix Copley has not been stellar. If this team is going to do anything, a goaltender is a must.
The Kings have their 2023 first-round pick but only a projected $4.723 million in deadline cap space. They could take on Varlamov’s cap hit if the Islanders retain a salary of up to 50 percent ($2.5 million).
The other team that needs a goaltender if they are going to do anything in the postseason is the Seattle Kraken. Despite Martin Jones having 23 wins on the season for a Kraken team currently second in the Central Division, he’s been horrid along with Phillip Grubauer.
The Kraken are projected to have $2.53 million in deadline cap space, so they can fit Varlamov if the Islanders retain 50 percent. They also have their first-rounder.
While the Golden Knights only have $1.125 million in projected deadline space, close to $1.9 million if Thompson lands on long-term IR, they would need to due some maneuvering to fit Varlamov.
A third team could help with that as well.
If the Islanders remain close to a playoff spot by March 3, Lamoriello likely holds on to Varlamov as he has been loyal to this goaltending tandem. The Islanders have shown the need for two goaltenders, especially in the playoffs.
Lamoriello and Varlamov may have chatted about a contract extension if Varlamov is willing to take a pay cut and play for $2.5 million annually over the next two years, that makes sense.
But, as mentioned, the Islanders could ship Varlamov for a first, and if it’s meant to be, the two sides can come together and get a deal done in the offseason.
What this does is it allows the Islanders to recoup the first-round pick that they gave up for Horvat. They can either use that to draft, use that pick to go snag someone else at the deadline (not a rental, wouldn’t make sense), or they can flip the pick at the draft, as they did for Alexander Romanov, depending on where it lands.
As for who backs up after that, Cory Schneider is an option, or the Islanders could get back a backup goaltender with the first-rounder from whatever team he is traded to.
As for Scott Mayfield, he deserves a raise from the $1.45 million he’s currently making, but given his play, a number around $3 million seems fair enough. The question is, do the New York Islanders want to lock Mayfield up at 30 years old, or do they have enough trust in Samuel Bolduc, a cheaper option, to become a starter as soon as next season?
Bolduc is a left-handed defenseman, while Mayfield is not, and the Islanders are slim on the right side.
Again, like Varlamov, why not trade Mayfield at the deadline, regardless, and then speak this summer and see if something can be worked out?
Mayfield hasn’t been at his best as of late, but on the season, he has five goals and eight assists, his five goals being a career-high. To add to that stat line, Mayfield has 115 blocks with 69 hits in an average of 20:43 minutes per game.
As for what teams would want Mayfield and what the cost could be to acquire him, any playoff team could use a player with his skill set.
Not only does he have playoff experience, but he’s a big body, a penalty killer, and does have an offensive touch at times.
A team like the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Buffalo Sabres, the Washington Capitals, and the Dallas Stars could use Mayfield.
The Islanders should be able to swindle a first-round pick for him.
Yes, Varlamov and Mayfield can be critical pieces on a playoff run, but as of now, the New York Islanders are not a playoff team and losing two players who hold value for nothing would not seem like the correct route for a team that needs retooling.