The reputation that the New York Islanders are not a team that top players want to join is changing — even if current parameters make bringing on a top-end talent more of a long shot than anything.
As the Tampa Bay Lightning began celebrating their second-straight Stanley Cup crown — after eliminating the Islanders both times at the semifinal stage — Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic reported that St. Louis Blues star winger Vladimir Tarasenko officially submitted a trade request on Wednesday night, July 7.
The 29-year-old sniper has a full no-trade clause but among his list of teams that he’d be willing to green light a move to supposedly are the Islanders.
In theory, Tarasenko would provide the Islanders with an elite first-line-level scoring talent that has evaded their clutches for each of the last three years under the Lou Lamoriello/Barry Trotz regime.
Since the 2014-15 season, he’s posted 82-game averages of 36 goals (11 power-play tallies) and 36 assists.
Put that on a first-line next to Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee and the Islanders could have one of the more imposing top units in the NHL.
But, again, that is all in theory.
The book is still out on just how viable Tarasenko’s elite scoring touch is after three shoulder surgeries — all on the same area — since April 2018.
It’s limited him to just 34 games over the last two seasons, which makes the Islanders — or any team — parting with a boatload of assets for his services a considerable risk.
But the disturbing trend of procedures needed on Tarasenko’s shoulder looks as though it’s more of an indictment on the Blues’ malpractice rather than fragility surrounding the player.
According to Rutherford, Tarasenko’s third surgery — carried out by non-club doctors at the Steadman Clinic in Edwards, CO — revealed that the first two procedures to repair the ligament damage from the initial injury three years ago was not corrected in either of the first two operations performed by Blues physicians.
This is where the divide between Tarasenko and the Blues is believed to have stemmed from and why he wants out of St. Louis.
Should a team believe that Tarasenko’s injury has now completely been addressed, the trade market should be there, which, again, would make the Islanders a logical suitor.
But there is another sizable hurdle for Lamoriello to clear should he want to obtain the Russian sniper’s services, and that’s his team’s salary-cap situation.
The Islanders currently have just around $5 million of cap space to work with to address a lengthy offseason checklist that features the need for new contracts for Casey Cizikas, Adam Pelech, Anthony Beauvillier, and Ilya Sorokin, among others.
Meanwhile, Tarasenko carries a cap hit of $7.5 million in each of the next two seasons as he’s owed $9.5 million in 2021-22 and $5.5 million in 2022-23 before hitting free agency.
The Islanders would have to shed major salary to fit such a contract under the books and will look to do so this summer, even if Tarasenko isn’t an end goal.
One avenue to do so is through the expansion draft as they could float either of the $5.5 million annual contracts of Nick Leddy or Jordan Eberle for the Seattle Kraken to take off their hands.
They could also part with one of those contracts in a prospective deal for Tarasenko, as The Athletic’s Arthur Staple previously mocked up a trade that would send Eberle and Beauvillier to the Blues for the winger and defenseman Vince Dunn.
Such a deal would obviously throw a wrench into the sacred Islanders’ chemistry that has been built over the last three seasons, and there would be questions surrounding Tarasenko’s ability to fit into the Islanders’ defense-first system.
However, should an opportunity arise to at least entertain trade talks for a player who still could be a 30-plus goal scorer and the missing piece to an Islanders’ championship puzzle, it’s an easy decision to at least kick the tires.