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New York Islanders

Potential Islanders Trade Partner: Winnipeg Jets

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New York Islanders Defenseman Ryan Pulock

The lockers have cleared out. The dust has settled. The 2023-24 New York Islanders season story is over. The Islanders can now focus on improving the roster from middling to a contender. While we’ll get no indications from the president of hockey operations/GM Lou Lamoriello that he is shopping the NHL trade market, it also seems to be a certainty. 

As the sun rises in the east, the Islanders’ need for a top-six-scoring winger persists. Since Jordan Eberle’s departure, the team has needed to add to the top six. 

After a painful Round One defeat, the trade winds are blowing across Winnipeg and that could be good news for the Islanders.

A potential fit for the Islanders’ trade needs is Winnipeg Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers.

Ehlers, 28, is coming off a campaign that saw him net 25 goals and 61 points. Winnipeg had a fantastic regular season, winning 52 games, including 46 regulation victories, which led the league. However, Winnipeg crashed out spectacularly, and head coach Rick Bowness retired.

Since 2018, they have tried and failed to reach greater heights than merely making the playoffs. Now, Winnipeg might shuffle the deck.  

Ehlers is the player generating buzz. He will enter his contract year and is a consistent 20+ goal scorer. He’s the type of player the Islanders could desperately use on their top line with Bo Horvat and Mat Barzal, as opposed to the “revolving door” that Horvat referenced during his exit interview. 

Ehlers is a shifty, skilled winger capable of playing both wings with good finish and playmaking. At 28, he’s currently in his prime and would solidify that large hole in the Islanders lineup. Anders Lee, 33, is aging and suffered a significant drop in goals and points this season, raising concerns that he can no longer, or will soon be unable to fulfill that spot. Nor did Oliver Wahlstrom ever step up the way the organization had hoped. 

It should be noted Ehlers has a 10-team no-trade clause, but the Islanders are not generally a team that players avoid, and the potential team success with Ehlers should erase any obstacles. 

Potential Islanders Trade

What would a trade look like? Could it be as simple as the rare one-for-one deal? 

The answer to the latter is a firm … maybe. Ryan Pulock is a native of Manitoba. Pulock has a full no-trade clause, but being paired with Josh Morrissey would be tempting. Morrissey’s current partner, Dylan DeMelo, is a pending unrestricted free agent and is far from a guarantee to re-sign. In addition to DeMelo, fellow right-shot defenseman Colin Miller is also a free agent, and Logan Stanley is an RFA needing a new, more expensive deal. 

Pulock’s cap hit is 6.15 million through the end of the 2028-29 season. His game hasn’t significantly dropped off, nor has his potential value to a team in win-now mode, such as the Jets. Ehlers’ salary, at an even 6 million, makes the trade easy financially for two teams retooling on the fly.

A potential Pulock for Ehlers swap would create a big hole on the Islanders’ right side, but with Scott Mayfield returning and ideally staying healthy, he can fill the void. The Isles would likely set their sights on July 1 to sign a right-shot defenseman; with some symmetry, perhaps DeMelo could be fit to replace Pulock. 

Such a trade would have cascading effects. Adding Ehlers would allow coach Patrick Roy to return Casey Cizikas to his customary bottom-six role and make underperforming Jean-Gabriel Pageau and his $5.5 million salary hit more expandable. 

(Later this week, I will follow up on Andrew Fantucchio’s piece from last week about Pageau and how the Islanders can maximize a potential Pageau deal)

Despite finishing in third place in the Metro Division, the Islanders desperately need a shake-up. The blunt truth is their season point total would have put them in a scrap for the final wild card position in most seasons. Few would argue the Islanders don’t need to improve to catch the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers.

Ehlers is a strong fit, and the view from this keyboard is parting with Pulock or another outer core piece that is worth investigating. 

What the Islanders currently have is not enough. The Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers collapsed for six weeks, and the Islanders took advantage. The reward was a gentlemen’s sweep from the Carolina.

Acquiring Ehlers or someone of a similar reputation while parting with a member of the old guard feels like a slam dunk.