Islanders trade rumors: Big swings needed to keep up in Metro Division

Islanders Horvat Barzal Noah Dobson
(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Islanders should make significant changes to their roster this summer. They have no other choice. 

A core of more than 15 players who have been together since back-to-back Stanley Cup semifinal appearances in 2020 and 2021 has grown stale. Over the last three seasons, the Islanders have been overmatched in the first round of the playoffs twice by the Carolina Hurricanes after scrambling down the stretch just to get to the dance and missed the postseason altogether in 2022. 

Team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello teased significant changes during exit interviews early last month, imploring that “we have to take out of the equation the personal situations. We certainly love loyalty, but it can’t impede progress, so whatever decisions have to be made will be made.”

The Islanders’ identity has changed from the defensive-minded approach that focused on organization and goaltending. Head coach Patrick Roy has ushered in a new era of aggressive attack-minded hockey. The problem is that the franchise lacks the depth of firepower to optimize such a philosophy. 

In the Metropolitan Division alone, the Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and New Jersey Devils all have more affluent offenses than the Islanders, whose 246 goals scored in 2023-24 ranked fifth of eight teams.

Their scoring is top-heavy. New York had three 30-plus-goal scorers in Brock Nelson (34), Bo Horvat (33), and Kyle Palmieri (30) for the first time since 1993-94, but that accounted for nearly 40% of the team’s goals scored all year. 

Islanders Nelson palmieri
Dec 11, 2023; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders center Kyle Palmieri (21) celebrates his goal with New York Islanders center Brock Nelson (29) against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period at UBS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Salus-USA TODAY Sports

The wealth has to be distributed and bringing on other legitimate scoring options means that Lamoriello has to open up some cap space. New York currently has just $6.2 million in cap space (h/t CapFriendly) and there are numerous free agents that management might want to bring back. That means potentially entertaining trade talks for the likes of Nelson ($6 million cap hit in 2024-25), Jean-Gabriel Pageau ($5 million), or Palmieri ($5 million).

Nikolaj Ehlers of the Winnipeg Jets, Martin Necas of the Carolina Hurricanes, and Mitch Marner (the wildest of all the pipe dreams) are believed to be on the trade market this summer with significant cap hits ranging between $6 million and potentially $10 million.

Other players with 30-plus goal-scoring potential on the free-agent market include Jonathan Marchessault, Tyler Toffoli, and Viktor Arvidsson. 

There are options available. It is up to Lamoriello to make the necessary space to create a more well-rounded attacking team that can reach the potential of Roy’s new system.

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