The New York Islanders are approaching a decision point.
As the NHL’s trade deadline draws closer, team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello must determine what moves he will or won’t make and what direction he wants to take the team in the immediate future.
Six weeks out from the deadline, the Islanders are in a precarious position within the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
With 52 points and a record of 20-17-12, they’re still within striking distance, being four points back of the final spot in the Metropolitan Divison and five of the final wild card spot.
However, with a record of 2-6-2 in their last 10 games, including three straight losses heading into the All-Star break, the Islanders are in real jeopardy of falling out of the race if they don’t turn things around once they resume their schedule.
At the very least, that leaves Lamoriello with options to explore.
If Lamoriello believes this season is worth salvaging, Semyon Varlamov is the first player that comes to mind in potential trades for the Islanders.
The NHL goalie market is white hot, with a high demand and short supply.
Knowing this, teams who have a goalie to sell are asking for an arm and leg in return, making Varlamov a cheaper option for potential buyers. That said, the Islanders shouldn’t give him up for nothing.
Varlamov has a 2.88 GAA and a .914 save percentage in 15 starts this year. A trade of the veteran goalie should bring back a decent return that can help the Islanders now. Ideally, either a bottom-four defenseman or a middle-six winger.
However, there are a few factors that could complicate things.
Firstly, with Varlamov being 35 years old and in the first year of a four-year deal, teams may not want to give up much for an asset that’s only going to depreciate over time. In that case, the Islanders might have to eat some of Varlamov’s $2.75 million annual salary.
Varlamov also has a full no-trade clause attached to his contract for the next two seasons, so he’d have to approve of any deal involving his name.
Still, with the way the market is trending, it’d be foolish for the Islanders to not shop Varlamov. It’s not as if they’ll be relying on him much down the stretch anyway, as you can expect a heavy dose of Ilya Sorokin in goal from now until April.
Simon Holmstrom has proven himself to be an NHL-caliber player who can kill penalties and be a scoring threat from time to time. That’s the type of player that’s valuable on any playoff team. But why would the Islanders want to give him up?
Holmstrom becomes a realistic trade piece if Lamoriello believes the Islanders are unlikely to make the playoffs this season but are still a threat next year and beyond.
With 18 points and 12 goals, Holmstrom is having the best year of his young career thus far. Plus, the 22-year-old still has years of team control left, with his entry-level contract set to expire at the end of this season.
The Islanders could sell high on Holmstrom and make him the main piece in a trade package that brings back a return that can help them this year and beyond.
As unlikely as this scenario is, the idea of moving Brock Nelson shouldn’t be off the table.
It should only be a route taken if Lamoriello believes the Islanders are far from competing for a Stanley Cup within the next five years or so.
While averaging 36.5 goals for the last two seasons, Nelson has been the Islanders’ top goal scorer, which he likely will be again this year.
Nevertheless, Nelson is only two years out from becoming an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2025. By that time, he’ll be entering his age 34-season.
If the Islanders get to that point and haven’t made significant steps toward winning a championship, there’s little sense in re-signing Nelson to a multi-year contract.
Nelson does have a 16-team no-trade clause attached to his contract, which would limit Lamoriello’s options in a trade. But, by moving Nelson now, while he’s at the top of his game and still has a term left on his current deal, the Islanders could bring in young assets to kickstart a rebuild that many have said is long overdue.
So, which of these routes will Lamoriello take, if any at all? At this point, it’s too early to tell.
But with 13 games left between now and the deadline, there isn’t much time left for him to weigh his options.