It’s about halfway through the season and teams are starting to plan for the time leading up to the trade deadline. For some, it will be about selling off parts for a greater future. For others, like the 24-10-3 New York Islanders, it will be about working towards a run for the Stanley Cup. With Derick Brassard proving to be a more quality wing than center, a new third line pivot could be at the top of the team’s wishlist.
There’s not a ton of great options out there, but this piece looks to identify five potential options for that role, as well as reasons why it should or should not happen. So, let’s get to it.
1. Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Ottawa Senators - Cap Hit: $3,100,000 (UFA)
Why It Should Happen: Quite simply, Pageau is the best center on the market. In terms of production, he’s having a career season driven by an inflated shooting percentage, but there’s more to this reasoning than production valuation. Looking at the regression-based models on HockeyViz and Evolving-Hockey, Paguea’s isolated metrics show a player who has taken great strides this year. He’s a strong skater with the ability to play in any situation, which is the type of player that a team like the Islanders could use heading into a playoff stretch (and likely appearance).
Why It Should Not Happen: Because he is the best center on the market, there are going to be a lot of suitors. That will assuredly drive up the price, and it’s generally never wise to pay a premium to “buy high.” If the evaluation is that a potential premium cost can drive the Islanders to be Stanley Cup contenders (maybe), it could be worth it. But even then, there are other names that will be more cost-effective and can make the Islanders whole as a four-line team.
2. Vladislav Namestnikov
Ottawa Senators - Cap Hit: $3,250,000 (UFA)
Why It Should Happen: If the Islanders fail to land Pageau, they could continue talking with the Ottawa Senators about Vladislav Namestnikov. The former Ranger has had a bit of a tough go ever since he was traded to New York from Tampa Bay, but he’s always been a good defensive center that could fit Barry Trotz’s system. It would be a similar acquisition as the signing of Derick Brassard in the sense that the team would be acquiring him for past performance, but perhaps a better situation on Long Island could re-open some of his potential.
Why It Should Not Happen: Expecting a player to come in and perform offensively to previous levels can be dangerous. Namestnikov is - as of now - primarily a defensive player, which is not necessarily what the Islanders need. The fit seems good, but it would be an acquisition with a fairly low ceiling of a player that’s trended downwards for three seasons. The price may be right, but the player himself is more of a question.
3. Mikko Koivu
Minnesota WIld - Cap Hit: $5,500,000 (UFA)
Why It Should Happen: Still effective at age 36, the former Selke nominee would fit the Isles’ style like a glove. While he is predominantly a defensive-minded center these days, Koivu is far from an offensive liability. He’s also the current captain of the Wild, which surely would grab the attention of this regime. Of note, Koivu has been out with an injury since early December, but he still feels like someone who could be an attractive option for a team that values experience and veteran leadership.
Why It Should Not Happen: It’s a pretty big longshot for a few reasons. First, the Wild are still very much on the precipice of the playoff race, so to expect rookie GM Bill Guerin to trade a Wild-lifer (and captain!) in his first season is a bit farfetched. Koivu also has a no-movement clause, so he’d have to agree to leave Minnesota to come to Long Island. And while Koivu would help improve the all-around game of the Islanders, he’d likely do little to directly help their goal scoring issues. His last 20-goal season was ten years ago (2009-10), so it would be a situation where there would need to be a comparable move on the wing.
4. Trevor Lewis
Los Angeles Kings - Cap Hit: $2,000,000 (UFA)
Why It Should Happen: One could argue the biggest need for the team is stability down the middle, and that is what Lewis can provide at a potentially cheap price. The only issue? He has very little actual shooting talent, as he’s scored 10 goals twice in his long career. Lamoriello and Trotz will surely love that he’s been on two Stanley Cup-winning teams, and he’s been a depth play driver for the majority of that period.
Why It Should Not Happen: For the Isles, the name of the game is scoring and that’s just not something Lewis provides. This would be a depth acquisition that surely would not excite anyone nor help the team’s offensive prospects, so it’s something that could fall flat when the team is already playing guys in that third-line center position that provide more offensive production.
5. Ryan Strome
New York Rangers - Cap Hit: $3,100,000 (RFA)
Why It Should Happen: It’s no secret that Ryan Strome is having a career season playing with Artemiy Panarin, but that would not be the real reason to acquire him as Strome’s quality of teammate would surely lessen in a return to the Island. But, he’s an offensive minded right-handed center (the Isles have few righties on their roster) who is familiar with the organization and many of the players on the team.
Why It Should Not Happen: We’ve seen this story before and the chances that Strome would produce anywhere near his Manhattan numbers are pretty slim. His defensive game is questionable, which makes the “fit” in the Trotz system more risky than other players above. Plus, the Isles would be buying high from their biggest rivals, which could lead to a costly mistake. This is a big longshot and would require both the Rangers and Islanders to appropriately value Strome, which seems unlikely.