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Palmieri Benched? Vets Out of Islanders New Lines

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New York Islanders forwards Kyle Palmieri and Matt Martin during practice on Monday, Jan. 10 at Northwell Ice Center

When the puck drops for the New York Islanders contest against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, it seems that head coach Barry Trotz will stick with Kieffer Bellows and Ross Johnston over veterans Kyle Palmieri and Matt Martin.

Over the last two days at practice, the Islanders forward group did not include Palmieri or Martin, who skated with Austin Czarnik as the extras.

Here is how the forwards lined up on Monday and Tuesday of this week:

Anders Lee — Mathew Barzal — Josh Bailey

Anthony Beauvillier — Brock Nelson— Oliver Wahlstrom

Bellows— Jean-Gabriel Pageau — Zach Parise

Johnston — Casey Cizikas — Cal Clutterbuck

Two weeks ago, Trotz spoke to the media regarding playing time.

“We’ve got some older guys, and we’ve got some younger guys,” Trotz said. “And because of where we are, because of the pandemic, because of injuries, because of COVID, they’re getting opportunities and to me, they’re getting opportunities to earn a full-time job.”

“In the salary cap world, it’s reality, if a younger, cheaper player can do what an older, more expensive player can do, you are going to go that route.”

And a day later, when asked about Kyle Palmieri coming back into the lineup upon his return, Trotz hinted that a possible benching could be on the horizon for the 12-year veteran.

Trotz told the media that when Palmieri was indeed ready to return, management would see where to put him back in, as others had been performing quite well in his absence.

If Palmieri and Matt Martin are not in Thursday’s lineup, how long do the veterans stay on the bench?

Kieffer Bellows entered the latest break in play on a three-game point streak with two goals and two assists. On the season, the 23-year old forward has three goals and five assists in 14 games ($750K AAV), more points than Palmieri ($5 M AAV) has in 25 games.

Following Palmieri’s strong postseason performance, with seven goals and two assists in 19 games, the Islanders believed they had signed a consistent goal scorer for Mat Barzal and the top line. But the 30-year old has been anything but with just one goal and six assists in 25 games.

Although he had been dealing with an injury (lower-body), he was back on the practice ice with his teammates on Jan 3 in a grey jersey, alongside teammate Brock Nelson.

He’s still in that grey jersey as an extra eight days later. Could he still be dealing with an injury?

Sure, but the fact that he left the ice late in the second period of a game against the Boston Bruins on Dec. 18 and did not skate again until 18 days later seems more likely that his injury is behind him and now it’s just about waiting his turn to get in the lineup.

If Palmieri is on the outside looking in often as the season progresses, could that mean after not even a season the Islanders look to trade him?

A bit premature, but Bellows is set to become a restricted free agent after this season and even if his contract goes from the current league minimum to let’s say $2 million, the Islanders are still saving on average $2 million a season.

It could become a storyline to watch come the March 21st NHL Trade Deadline.

Martin has struggled this season, as he has seemed to lose a step or two. At 32, Martin’s nagging injury may be one that stays with him for the remainder of his career. He has one assist in 21 games this season.

The long-time staple on the Islanders’ “identity line” signed a four-year deal prior to the start of the 2020-21 season worth $6 million.

With linemate Casey Cizikas being re-signed to a six-year deal worth $15 million this past offseason, it seemed that the game plan was to keep the “identity line” intact for the foreseeable future.

Cal Clutterbuck, the final member of the Islanders’ fourth line is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season with no contract talks to speak of at this moment.

Before this hectic season got underway, Martin was missing from Islanders’ training camp due to recovering from offseason ankle injury. He ended up missing the first two games of the season and it seems that his style of play has hurt his ability to play the way the Islanders need him to.

On Oct. 21, Ross Johnston received a four-year deal worth $4.4 million. It begs the question, did the Islanders do this as a backup plan or is Johnston being groomed to take over Martin’s position?

Johnston has played in seven of the last nine games for the Islanders and although not every game has seen him line up on the fourth line, his gritty style, along with his skating ability makes him a strong option. On the year, Johnston has two assists in eight games.

The fact that Palmieri and Martin are extras at practice could very well be a mind game Trotz is playing, in order to push them to work harder ahead of Thursday’s contest. Things could change come practice on Wednesday and even at morning skate on Thursday.

But right now it seems that Trotz is electing to ride the hot hands with Bellows and Johnston.

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