As the New York Islanders have contended for first place while surviving injuries all season long, the question of what they might do at the March 2 NHL trade deadline has long had a dull answer: Very little, if anything at all.
The latest hint in that regard, a "stand pat" report in the Post, is consistent with whispers and inference shared since the Isles first appeared to be a team to be reckoned with.
That doesn't mean they wouldn't listen -- cue your standard "We're always looking to improve our team" Garth Snow boilerplate quote. But thanks to depth and upgrades over the summer and on the eve of the season, they have no glaring needs that scream, "Make a trade!" They have no clear flaws that demand giving up a piece of what they have for a piece they crave even more.
Many fans disagree, of course. There is always the thirst for more ("MOAR!"). But realistically speaking the Isles have rode their depth and managed their 23-man roster to prove that they are a deep and good team whose question marks probably don't have trade deadline answers:.
- The Islanders' faltering penalty kill does not have a personnel answer; there is no importing one player who can magically fix what ails.
- The fourth line, called by some the "best fourth line in the league," has been effective and does not betray a need for luxurious upgrade.
- The Islanders have a really nice top six defensive corps when healthy, and are apparently so happy with Brian Strait filling in that eighth man Matt Donovan has his own plaque in the pressbox.
- The backup goaltending situation has been problematic -- though Chad Johnson has been good in his last few starts -- but they made their decision with his two-year signing last summer and external options are likely to be in that same murky cloud of, "If your starter goes down, how far can a backup really take you?"
- The infamous and eternal question of adding a "top" scoring winger to play with John Tavares, is neither realistic, necessary, nor acquirable -- unless you believe in the possibility that the Isles desire and could reach a deal for Jaromir Jagr to help him complete the Old Patrick Division cycle.
The Isles spent some of their reserve assets on that perceived need last season in the Thomas Vanek trade. The results were both impressive and, ultimately, proof that this fabled need isn't what truly ailed the team.
Other trade-deadline-friendly assets were spent acquiring Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk last fall. Meanwhile, the Isles' best young players are among the contributing figures who currently make the team so strong -- and cap-friendly.
The one area in the asset pipeline of both surplus and strength is on the blueline, but Lubomir Visnovsky's contract, age and use this season hints at one opening to be filled, and parting with one of the prized defensemen prospects would likely be for the kind of high-end acquisition the Isles wouldn't be seeking.
Meanwhile, the one thing that could significantly change this outlook is exactly what the Isles have already insured against with their 23-man roster: injuries. The Isles have withstood injuries at various points to Visnovsky, Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, and Calvin de Haan on defense, along with Josh Bailey, Casey Cizikas, (ahem) Eric Boulton, Mikhail Grabovski and Kyle Okposo at forward.
The latter two are currently on IR, as is Casey Cizikas (short term) and possibly Frans Nielsen (in the air, but short term if so). But Okposo's recovery is reportedly on schedule, as Arthur Staple of Newsday again reported Monday.
The risk is the Islanders will reach the March 2 (3 p.m. Eastern) trade deadline without certainty on Okposo and Grabovski. But the expectation is both will return down the stretch. Though it's a risk to bet on that coming true, it's also a risk to remove a strength in a bet that it won't.
Possible Scenarios for Action
With a few teams looking to shed cheaper assets and pending unrestricted free agents like Daniel Winnik in Toronto or Andrej Sekera in Carolina, it's possible the Isles see an opportunity they can't refuse once the market shakes out. (That's basically how Vanek landed in Montreal's lap last spring.)
It's also possible, given Snow's usual stealthy approach, a shock bold move comes up. But past bold moves addressed significant needs, something the Isles no longer have.
It's difficult to imagine nothing happening, but even harder to imagine something major given where the team is after the offseason moves.