February 1, 2018 | 4:19pm ET
BY DAVID PAGNOTTA, The Fourth Period
ISLANDERS’ SNOW FACING TOUGH DECISIONS
TORONTO, ON -- It’s that time of the year again and questions are easier to answer for some teams than for others. As it does every season, trade chatter spread across All-Star Weekend. General Managers were working away and speculation was getting louder and louder. Some teams have it figured out, but not all.
The Buffalo Sabres are done. The Arizona Coyotes are finished. The Ottawa Senators are planning things out for next season. The Montreal Canadiens are working on their off-season to-do list. Edmonton? Vancouver? Detroit? Sell! Sell! Sell!
But for some teams, it’s not that simple.
The New York Rangers are willing to move almost anyone, but the offers have to make sense. If the right deal comes across GM Jeff Gorton’s desk – most likely a text on his cell, but whatever – he’ll move Mats Zuccarello. Same can be said for Ryan McDonagh. He’s taking calls on them just like he took calls on Chris Kreider last summer. It’s got to make sense.
The Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes are thinking long-term, and while their more impactful moves are expected to occur in the summer, these next few weeks will set to tone for June’s trading season surrounding the NHL Draft.
The New York Islanders, though, have some really hard decisions to make. And figuring out what the &@#$ John Tavares wants to do is only one of them.
Following a 4-1 loss to the Panthers on Tuesday, the Isles were shutout 5-0 Wednesday night to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Even on back-to-back nights, Wednesday’s game didn’t showcase enough for a team fighting for a playoff spot. Their defence wasn’t up to snub, goaltending was often shaky, and they didn’t come close to winging enough battles to convince me they mean business. Summed up by head coach Doug Weight after the game, the team’s performance was “disappointing.”
Sure, they’re only one point back of a playoff spot, but they have played 2-3 more games than the teams they’re chasing. Based on how things currently stand, the Islanders are going to need at least 95 points to make the playoffs. That means they’ll need to win 20 of their remaining 30 games on the season. I hate to be negative, but that’s going to be extremely difficult.
Islanders GM Garth Snow and his staff aren’t at a breaking point just yet, but soon they’re likely going to have to face reality. Soon, they’re going to have to shift their focus towards icing a better team next season. Soon, they’re going to have to address the elephant in the room. Soon.
Getting this out of the way, how do you think John Tavares feels about his team’s realistic chances? Is this a “not again” scenario? For the faction of Islanders fans who want Snow’s job to be leveraged on Tavares coming back, I don’t believe that to be the case. All signs/assumptions, up until this period, have pointed to him re-signing with the Islanders. And I’ll still take the safe bet on him staying, for now. Many arguments can be made over why he should test the waters this July, and there are holes on this team that need addressing.
Up front, there’s a lot of promise. I like the young players the Islanders have coming up at the forward position. Mathew Barzal’s talents are obvious. Kieffer Bellows is going to be a stud. Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Ho-Sang are coming into their own. Michael Dal Colle is slowly starting to find his groove.
Team defence and goaltending, though, have issues. An upgrade is needed in both areas, and Snow is likely going to have to get creative in addressing those needs this off-season.
Will they let Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey walk as unrestricted free agents? Devon Toews and Sebastian Aho could make a case to replace one of them, but adding either of those two blueliners alongside Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Scott Mayfield, Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech doesn’t exactly strike fear in the opposition. The Isles need a top-pair defenceman, and they certainly have the tools to make something happen, but can Snow find the right match?
The sense is Tavares will give the Islanders an idea of what he’s thinking in the coming weeks. You’d have to believe the team will expect the same from Josh Bailey. Can the promise of the team’s rising forward depth, bolstering the blueline and finding a clear No.1 goalie (waiting on Ilya Sorokin or finding another option) be enough for Tavares and Bailey to buy in?
The Montreal Canadiens are one of the busiest teams out there in terms of caging the waters of the open market. Whether they make one move, three moves or five moves is anybody’s guess – that falls on GM Marc Bergevin – but they continue to have conversations about several players on their team.
Injuries have played a factor in talks surrounding Andrew Shaw, though a trade wasn’t close at the time of his ailment. He returns around the time of the trade deadline, and the Habs can wait until the off-season, if they prefer, to move him.
Forwards Paul Byron, Tomas Plekanec and Artturi Lekhonen have also generated interest, while the belief is talks involving Alex Galchenyuk have slowed significantly. The Habs prefer to keep him, especially after building chemistry with Jonathan Drouin, and it would take quite the trade for him to move.
Bergevin is also believed to be feeling out the market on defencemen David Schlemko, Jordie Benn and Joe Morrow.
But Montreal’s prized tradable asset is captain Max Pacioretty, and Bergevin isn’t in a rush to ship him out of town. The asking price is high, and unless a team is willing to cough up a NHL-proven forward (centre, preferred, but we’re told not a must), a top prospect and a high draft pick, presumably a first-round selection, Pacioretty’s sticking around.
There’s plenty of interest in the inconsistently consistent 30-goal scorer, as the St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and Los Angeles Kings are among the teams kicking tires, and while each team has discussed options with the Canadiens, a deal is not believed to be imminent.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Habs and Kings decide there ultimately isn’t a match here, which may be good news for the other clubs pursuing Pacioretty.
OEL NOISE PICKING UP
Like Pacioretty and the Canadiens, there are no guarantees the Coyotes trade defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson this season, either. But teams are calling more often and the whispers over All-Star Weekend seemed to suggest Arizona is now willing to pick up the phone.
Ekman-Larsson’s price tag is higher than that of Pacioretty’s, and Coyotes GM John Chayka could begin talks now and let them stew until the NHL Draft, especially if his team wins the draft lottery – and that means having Rasmus Dahlin join Jakob Chychrun anchor the team's blueline for a very long time.
But that’s the safe way of going about this matter, waiting for the off-season. If the right, substantial offer presented itself by the Feb. 26 trade deadline, would Chayka be bold enough to pull the trigger? It’s a tough call, especially since the draft lottery is exactly that, a lottery.
I’d imagine Chayka and the Coyotes will want to speak with Ekman-Larsson and his camp over these next few weeks to get a better sense of his long-term plans, even with one more year left on his contract. OEL’s response will play a factor, and you can be sure the team will move ahead accordingly based on the answer.
And while Ekman-Larsson’s tenure with the Coyotes may extend to the Draft, Jason Demers’ future with the club may not go that long. There’s a strong indication, though not a guarantee, the Coyotes move him by the deadline. What’s clear is he’s available.
GREEN COULD MOVE EARLY
Detroit Red Wings blueliner Mike Green is getting a lot of attention these days, with several teams very interested his services.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals, Los Angeles Kings, Winnipeg Jets and Pittsburgh Penguins are among the teams, and there are a few more, believed to have serious interest, and some teams may be more inclined to make a move sooner than later.
Green will become an unrestricted free agent this summer and the Red Wings are willing to take on a portion of his salary to help facilitate a trade. I don’t believe a move is close, just yet, but I can see something being ironed out well before the deadline.