The New York Islanders season as a whole has been a whirlwind. Since returning from the All-Star break on Feb. 6, the Islanders have looked dominant at times, desperate at other times, and flat-out uninspired as well.
But through the ups and downs of the last 12 games, the Islanders find themselves in the top wild-card spot in the East, clinging to a one-point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have four games in hand.
Over these last 12 games, the Islanders have scored 36 goals, three goals per game. They have allowed 31 goals, just 2.58 per game.
Here are the Islanders’ biggest question marks heading into the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline as they are on the ride of their lives to get into the postseason with 18 games remaining.
Do the Islanders Believe in their Group?
The players on the roster believe that they have enough to get into the postseason. While constantly voicing belief in his team, Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello made another trade, acquiring depth forward Pierre Engvall from the Toronto Maple Leafs for a 2024 third-round pick.
The Islanders have seen their top players like Brock Nelson and newcomer Bo Horvat elevate their games, and the depth, more often than not down the stretch, especially with Barzal out, have played its role.
They have the goaltending in Ilya Sorokin and for now, Semyon Varlamov. Their top-two defense pairings seem to be clicking, with the third the only real concern.
There are a few holes in the lineup right now due to injury, which won’t be filled correctly unless more trades are made.
With the number of games in hand their wild-card foes have, the Islanders are in a dog fight and belief and will after the deadline is the only way they are going to find a way in.
Any Support Coming on the Injury Front?
The New York Islanders have three players on Injured Reserve, which doesn’t include face-of-the-franchise Mathew Barzal.
Fourth-line forward Cal Clutterbuck has not played since Jan. 19 as he deals with an upper-body injury believed to be unrelated to his shoulder surgery from last season. NYI Hockey Now saw him skating ahead of a practice a few weeks back, holding a stick, but the likelihood that he returns this season is slim.
As for Oliver Wahlstrom, although the Islanders have made no final announcement, the belief is that he is out for the season with his lower-body injury. He was seen on crutches and in a brace, and a source told NYI Hockey Now recently that he believes he will be ready for training camp.
But then there are two injured players, one in Jean-Gabriel Pageau and another in Mat Batzal.
Pageau has missed the last eight games with an upper-body injury and did not travel to Winnipeg or Minnesota with the team, so his status is up in the air. Lamoriello did say he has resumed skating on Long Island, but that does not mean he will be ready to return soon.
For Barzal, he is week-to-week right now but could very well miss the rest of the season after initially being ruled out indefinitely.
So for argument’s sake, let’s assume Pageau is the only player returning from injury.
The Islanders, who just got a depth winger to help counteract the Barzal loss, with a projected $5.274 million to play with, could double down.
But the Islanders also need help on the backend.
Can the Islanders Trust Aho, or is Another D Needed?
There’s no question Sebastian Aho has shown off his strengths this season for the New York Islanders, but through the positive play, the negatives always show face.
Standing at five-foot-10, Aho gets knocked off the puck too often and struggles mightily to keep the opposition to the outside.
His counterpart Noah Dobson has struggled defensively as well but has become the Islanders’ best offensive defenseman and he’s not coming out no matter what.
He often finds himself in the penalty box due to an inability to keep players in front of him and struggles to stay on his feet during puck battles.
That makes him a risky option not just down the stretch, where games will have that playoff mindset, but if the Islanders make the playoffs.
The Islanders could use other remaining $5.274 million on a veteran defenseman, but top defense prospect Samuel Bolduc has shown well during his short NHL stint this season.
Despite being just 22, he’s a big body and a more reliable option for New York.
Here’s our list of defense targets for the New York Islanders at the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline.
Are Bridgeport Call-Ups Enough to Get In?
Due to injury, the Islanders have five players on their roster who started the season with the Bridgeport Islanders. Two have been staples in the Islanders lineup since being recalled, in Hudson Fasching and Simon Holmstrom.
Ross Johnston has also been playing.
With Pierre Engvall on the team, one of the depth forwards is going down to Bridgeport, but that leaves a few still in the potential starting lineup.
None of the call-ups have made their mark offensively, all showing a strong understanding of the defensive side of the games, which is for sure a need in crunch time. But the Islanders do need more offensive production from those players if the Islanders are going to get into the postseason.
Given the lack of assets the Islanders have, it likely makes more sense to keep them unless they are getting a proven goal scorer in return, but those don’t come cheap.
Will Lamoriello Trade For Rentals?
The age-old question. Will Islanders general manager Lou Lamoreillo trade for a rental?
He is notorious for not doing that, but it would be curious to see if he would this season for a depth scorer or depth defenseman with the Islanders not locked into a playoff spot and not a sure bet to get in with how many games in hand their wild-card foes have.
Envgall, who Lamoriello just acquired, is likely to get an extension.
The New York Islanders do not have a tremendous amount of cap room after this season when you consider Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal’s eight-year extensions kicking in, with a few unrestricted free agents of their own to deal with.
Before a potential Engvall contract, the Islanders have $6.8 million going into next season. That could change with offseason trades and potential buyouts, but money is running slim.
In his press conference on Tuesday, Lamoriello said, “I think it’s my job to give our group the best chance to have success…” so if that’s the case, and there are clear needs, maybe Lamoriello shocks the world this deadline.