Islanders in tricky spot as NHL trade deadline looms

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — After Sunday’s flurry of deals, it’s clear that the NHL is a seller’s market right now. For the Islanders, who already dealt their best prospect and (conditionally) their first-round pick, that means nothing good.

Right before the All-Star break, when the Isles were reeling, there was a strong case to trade players on expiring contracts. Scott Mayfield, Zach Parise and Semyon Varlamov would all have value to playoff teams, particularly Varlamov, given how some Western Conference contenders have struggled in net.

Now, though, the Islanders are 31-25-7 going into Tuesday’s match against the Wild and hold the first wild-card spot in the East. Even without Mat Barzal, they just put in one of their best performances of the season with Sunday’s 4-0 demolition of the Jets.

They are not about to wave the white flag on the season, and their players are not looking to go compete elsewhere. On the contrary, Varlamov and Mayfield have both told The Post that they not only want to stay this year, but that they want to stay in free agency. (Varlamov would likely have to take a pay cut for that to happen). Parise, age 38, is likely to make a decision on playing next year after this season ends, and is very much invested in the Islanders’ success right now.

Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov and Scott Mayfield would be players the team could shed at the trade deadline.

Never say never when Lou Lamoriello is involved, but it would be a shocker to see the Isles jump in as a seller, even if there might be a purely pragmatic case to be made in favor of doing so. More likely would be Lamoriello trying to find either a mobile defenseman or a winger who can bolster the Isles’ top nine with Barzal out for the time being.

That is where the market’s dynamic presents an issue for the Islanders.

To acquire Bo Horvat, the Islanders sent Aatu Raty and a top-12 protected 2023 first-round pick to Vancouver. The pick becomes an unprotected first-rounder in 2024 if it doesn’t convert, so in theory, the Islanders could still trade this year’s pick with protections from 13-32 under the same condition. That would, however, be committing to two more years without a first-round pick for a franchise that has not picked in the top 32 since taking Simon Holmstrom in 2019.

The Isles have other prospects who could in theory be made available, including Holmstrom, William Dufour and Arnaud Durandeau, who has impressed in an ongoing NHL cameo. None, though, are of the blue-chip variety.

Then there is the massive price Tampa Bay just paid to get Tanner Jeannot, a bottom-six winger, from the Predators: Five draft picks including a top-10 protected first-rounder in 2025 along with Cal Foote. There is nothing stopping Lamoriello from trading a bundle of picks for help, but the Islanders are not a player away from Stanley Cup contention, and they are not rich with assets.

General Manager Lou Lamoriello is a wildcard at the trade deadline.
Getty Images

The best interpretation of this for the Islanders is twofold. First: Lamoriello does not need to feel pressure to make a move. Second: unlike their neighbors, there is no sign of rumors creeping into the dressing room or pending deals impacting the lineup.

“Doesn’t matter where you are in the standings, the trade deadline’s always a topic,” Anders Lee said after Sunday’s game. “It doesn’t matter if you’re hunting to get into the playoffs, whatever it is, it always comes down to focusing on us and taking care of what we can take care of.”

The more realistic interpretation is that, with only a few days until the deadline, the Islanders are too good to sell but without an obvious way to add.

Then again, Lamoriello is not known for sticking to the obvious.

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