On Tuesday night, the New York Islanders are in Colorado as they face the Avalanche and former Islanders defenseman Devon Toews. Since joining Colorado for the 2020-21 season, Toews has recorded 18 goals and 52 assists (70 points) in 95 games and has thrived in the mile-high city.
But what if the New York Islanders never parted ways with then restricted free agent Devon Toews back on Oct. 12 of 2020 for a 2021 and a 2022 second-round pick?
During the 2020 NHL Playoffs, Devon Toews scored two goals and recorded eight assists as he helped the New York Islanders get to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1993. He filed for arbitration on Oct. 10, and two days later, he was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche.
This Toews trade brought a lot of skepticism on New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello for trading a talented defenseman and the return he received. Many thought he could have received more for the 26-year old, which is probably the correct answer. But because of the pandemic and the billions of dollars the NHL and owners had lost, teams were hesitant to spend and part ways with assets.
A few days before Devon Toews was traded, the Columbus Blue Jackets traded 27-year old defenseman Ryan Murray to the New Jersey Devils for a fifth-round pick in 2021. A day after the Toews trade, the Vegas Golden Knights traded 29-year old Nate Schmidt to the Vancouver Canucks for a third-round pick in 2022. A month earlier, 33-year old defenseman Marc Staal was traded by the New York Rangers and a 2021 second-round pick for future considerations.
That same offseason, Taylor Hall received a one-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres, and Mike Hoffman had a PTO with the St. Louis Blues before signing a one-year contract. Those were two big-name free agents.
That was the state of the NHL market then, and if it was not for the pandemic, the Islanders might have been able to sign Toews with the increased salary cap. If not, at least they could have received a first-round pick for Toews on the open market.
If the New York Islanders wanted to afford Devon Toews, their 2021 first-round pick would have been used to help motivate a team to take on the contracts of Leo Komarov, Thomas Hickey, or a combination of undesirable contracts.
If that move had been made, the New York Islanders would not have acquired Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. And although Palmieri had played poorly before being dealt and after, the move was to bring in offense with New York Islanders captain Anders Lee on the shelf with a torn ACL.
Kyle Palmieri filled the offensive hole in the postseason with seven goals and two assists in 19 games as the Islanders fell a game shy of a Stanley Cup Final appearance for the first time since 1984.
But it is not even about Palmieri as a player. Holding the first-round pick was a safety blanket in case of any injury or need for an upgrade, especially with the trajectory the New York Islanders franchise was on.
Like an infomercial, “But wait, there’s more.”
Following the 2020-21 season, the New York Islanders dealt Andrew Ladd to the Arizona Coyotes for a 2021 second-rounder, a 2022 conditional second-rounder, and a 2023 conditional third-rounder to rid themselves of his contract.
One of those picks came from the Devon Toews trade.
Could the Islanders have still found a way to move Ladd? Maybe, but it would have been significantly harder, again, given the market.
But we continue down the line of how not trading Devon Toews would have impacted the Islanders. Next up is the 2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft. The New York Islanders dealt defenseman Nick Leddy to the Detroit Red Wings ahead of the Expansion Draft to avoid exposing him. With the contracts of Adam Pelech, Ilya Sorokin, and Anthony Beauvillier, there would have been no way for the Islanders to afford both Nick Leddy and Devon Toews. And if Toews was still around, Leddy was still being dealt.
Based on who the Islanders protected, it is safe to say that Scott Mayfield would have been left unprotected, therefore losing him to Seattle. Mayfield had been one of the best Islanders defensemen in the postseason, and given his $1.415 million cap hit, one could argue that he was more valuable than that.
It’s an interesting trade to look back on a few years later. Toews has become one of the better defensemen in the sport, while the Islanders have had defensive issues that have hurt their ability to play to the level the team has shown over the last few seasons.
Would Devon Toews be dominating like this in Colorado with the Islanders? Probably not. Would he have made the Islanders team stronger on the backend? More than likely, yes. But like the Owl from the Tootsie Pop commercial said, “The world may never know.”
Looking to bet on NHL action? Get the best NHL betting odds here.