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Putting Islanders on the Trade Block: Pageau or Nelson?

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New York Islanders Jean-Gabriel Pageau

Changes will be coming to the New York Islanders. The NHL trade market began to move Tuesday when the Nashville Predators traded defenseman Ryan McDonagh to the Tampa Bay Lighting, which could open the door to more wheeling and dealing. 

And open the door for an Islanders trade.

McDonagh returned to the Lightning, where he won two Stanley Cups and Islanders fans will surely remember who Tampa beat in consecutive years. In that deal, Nashville cleared his whopping $6.75 million cap hit and gained a 2025 second-round pick. 

Islanders Trade Bait?

Jean-Gabriel Pageau has a $5 million cap hit. Despite playing in all 82 games, Pageau had his worst offensive output in his Islanders career. Arthur Staple of The Athletic reported that at least two teams inquired about Pageau at this past trade deadline. However, Lou rebuffed any idea of moving him. The team made the playoffs and lost in a swift five games.

Now, the Islanders are cap-strapped. After back-to-back years of clinging to the core and the outer rim of that core, it is time for change. 

Pageau makes the most sense to move. While his value is certainly not at a peak, it would be hard to call him a total negative asset. He still played in all situations for the Islanders, while his wingers, never stayed consistent, Simon Holmstrom aside.

However, he certainly will not get you much in return. It truly comes down to what is more valuable to the Islanders going into this offseason—an additional $5 million in cap space to add a top-six winger or the 31-year-old Pageau. 

With some solid and affordable names potentially heading to free agency- Tyler Toffoli, Jonathan Marchessault, and Jake DeBrusk, to name a few- the Islanders need the wiggle room. 

Perhaps the Islanders worry about replacing Pageau in the lineup; after all, he did play almost 16 minutes a night, including special teams. 

Casey Cizikas proved this year that he can be a third-line center. He skated with Bo Horvat and Mat Barzal in the playoffs. He played all situations. Add in the emergence of Kyle MacLean as a potential fourth-line center of the future, and Pageau is expendable. 

Some have advocated for moving Brock Nelson, fifth on Team USA in scoring during the IIHF World Championship. Nelson has three goals and seven points in seven games while wearing a letter on a team chock full of NHL talent. He has also scored 30 goals in three straight years, something only done in the blue and orange one other time in the last 27 years. Nelson is older and has one year left on his contract, but that does not make him the better asset to trade. 

Nelson gets a better return, yes. But the Islanders won’t get back a 30-plus goal scorer. For a team bereft of constant goalscoring, trading their leader in goals is foolish and a disaster at worst. Nelson has led the team in goals this past year and five years running. Pageau has finished seventh on the team two years in a row.

Now that all internal roadblocks have been removed, the Islanders would need to find a team interested in Pageau and work out a deal. 

The best case is the same return that McDonagh got—a second and a seventh while sending a fourth out. Realistically, if the Islanders know they can land a top-six winger—whether July 1st or through a trade—Pageau should be cut loose. His production has dropped, and he doesn’t have that same constant speed he always had. It is time.

This offseason should be different from the recent ones for the Islanders- it should be active. Trading Pageau for draft capital allows for activity while adding more potential trade chips to help sweeten another potential trade.