The New York Islanders are entering a pivotal offseason when general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello will look to make a splash. After the team missed the playoffs, the top priorities are to acquire speed and pivot to a more offensive-minded game, starting with the promotion of first-year head coach Lane Lambert.
The Boston Bruins, meanwhile, are entering a difficult offseason where they have to decide whether to rebuild or try to make a run at the Stanley Cup with an aging core of star players. As a result, discussions have come up about star scorer David Pastrnak, who could garner a strong return in a deal as one of the league’s best players.
The Islanders could make a move for Pastrnak and go all-in on the upcoming season. Such a deal would come with understandable risks, and the Islanders should avoid making an offer for him. Instead, New York should learn from Pastrnak and his impact on the Bruins and use it as a blueprint for success both next season and for years to come.
Islanders Pursuing Pastrnak Comes with Costs
The Islanders would have to spend a significant amount of assets to acquire arguably the Bruins’ best player. If Boston indeed chooses to rebuild and move on from their core, they will ask for three, if not more, pieces to acquire Pastrnak. In the Islanders’ case, that would likely mean the 13th overall pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, along with two prospects.
Like the Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane, who will also only be moved for a high price, Pastrnak has become one of the faces of the franchise. Aside from sentimental value, the Bruins will likely view the 26-year-old as a player to build around and would only move him for a significant number of young players. Aside from the asking price, the Islanders have to also address Pastrnak’s contract, which expires after the upcoming season. The move for him would likely require a subsequent extension at a higher cap hit, but one the Islanders would be willing to take considering it would keep the star player on the roster for years to come.
New York will have plenty of obstacles off the ice to acquire him, notably Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who was recently extended by the team. However, they would also have to consider where he would best fit into the lineup. Unlike pending free agent Johnny Gaudreau, who uses his speed to gash opponents, Pastrnak is an instinctive well-rounded offensive zone playmaker. While he elevates any shift he plays on, Lambert would still have to figure out whether Pastrnak plays best on the same line as Mathew Barzal, who is one of the best skaters in the NHL, or alongside Brock Nelson, who is one of the team’s best goal scorers.
The potential reward for acquiring Pastrnak is undeniable. In his eight years in the NHL, he has averaged 30 goals and 33 assists per season, making him a great goal scorer but also a puck distributor in the offensive zone. The move for him would make the Islanders Stanley Cup contenders and help turn around an offense that only scored 2.79 goals per game last season. However, instead of acquiring him, the Islanders should take note of his impact on the Bruins, a team that a few years back mirrored the roster that Lamoriello has now.
Pastrnak Was Pivotal to the Bruins’ Success
The Bruins were one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference for years, winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, losing in the Final in 2013, and finishing in first place in their division three times in four years. However, starting in 2014-15, the team started to decline, with head coach Claude Julien losing his touch before getting fired in 2017, to the roster slowly aging, especially the key contributors. The Bruins missed the playoffs in both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, and it looked like the front office was going to have to rebuild and possibly move on from veteran players like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron.
Along with Charlie McAvoy on defense, Pastrnak brought youth and energy back to the roster. The young scorer suddenly made the team competitive and helped form one of the league’s best forward lines playing alongside Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Pastrnak helped the Bruins rebound to reach the second round of the playoffs four seasons in a row while advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019.
Oftentimes, an aging roster can rebound with the addition of a young star. For the Bruins, Pastrnak brought life back to the offense and, more importantly, opened up a championship window that kept the team competitive for multiple seasons. The Islanders will look to open up their championship window by acquiring a star scorer, but they could extend that competitive window if they add a young scorer to the lineup instead.
Young Islanders Who Can Fulfill that Role
The Islanders would ideally have a young player poised to take a big leap. Unfortunately, their roster is one of the older ones in the NHL, with multiple skaters 30 years old or older while only a handful are 25 years old or younger. The young forwards who could make a big leap are Barzal, who has been with the team for six seasons, and Oliver Wahlstrom, who has shown flashes but struggled to find a place up front last season.
This shifts the pressure to develop one of their own prospects with hopes they can become a star-caliber player. With one of the worst farm systems in the league, it will be an uphill battle for a team eager to find that boost for the roster. However, despite the limited prospect pool, one of the elite players in their system is Aatu Raty. Raty will join the Bridgeport Islanders of the American Hockey League (AHL) next season and still needs time to improve before impacting the NHL roster. However, he has a high ceiling and could become that star-caliber scorer the team needs.
Similarly, the prospect who has taken the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) by storm is forward William Dufour. After scoring four goals for the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Memorial Cup Round Robin 5-3 win against the Shawinigan Cataractes, Dufour has fans and scouts wondering about his NHL potential. While the 2020 fifth-round pick has looked promising, especially recently, the Islanders will take understandable precautions considering he’s finding the back of the net in the QMJHL, a league known for high-scoring games.
The Islanders’ roster is aging, and the championship window is starting to close. However, the addition of one young elite player would instantly change the perception of the team. Whether it’s Raty, Dufour, or even a player not on the team yet, adding a young scoring presence will provide another building block for the Islanders and extend their window.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.