The New York Islanders are off to a strong start. With a 16-10 record, they are in third place in the Metropolitan Division and on pace to end the season as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. However, their offense has fallen off recently. The Islanders average a respectable 3.15 goals per game but have only scored 2.62 goals per game in their last eight games and only five goals in their last three games.
The offensive struggles are explainable, considering the injuries up front, specifically on the right wing. Kyle Palmieri is on injured reserve and has been out of the lineup since Nov. 21, while Cal Clutterbuck hasn’t played since Nov. 29, which has left the Islanders without two of their pivotal forwards. The offense thrives on its depth and ability to have four potent lines on a nightly basis, but when a few players are injured, the production starts to wane, as it has in the past few games.
Both Palmieri and Clutterbuck could return this week and give the team a healthy forward unit, but ultimately, the Islanders need to address the void at the right-wing position. Whether it’s a splash or a depth addition, recent games have shown that the team needs reliable skaters on the wing, especially for an offense that has playmakers like Mathew Barzal and Brock Nelson. Here are some options the team should consider pursuing.
The biggest star on the trade block will be Patrick Kane, understandably so. He’s entering the final year of his contract and despite being 34 years old, is still playing at a high level for the Chicago Blackhawks, scoring four goals and a team-high 16 assists. However, he has a no-trade clause, a $10.5 million salary cap hit, and the asking price from the Blackhawks will likely require the Islanders to go all-in to acquire him. That said, the move would not only help out the right wing but put the offense over the top.
Kane is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and can guide any team to a deep playoff run. He’s also a pass-first player who makes the other skaters on the ice better, which is why he’s a trade target for the Islanders. Kane would play on the top line and create scoring chances for instinctive goal scorers Nelson and Anders Lee, or he could play alongside Barzal to balance out his game. The Islanders making a move for him would be an aggressive push with hopes to win the Cup, but also one that would turn the offense into one of the best in the NHL.
Timo Meier is a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and the San Jose Sharks could re-sign him to help with their rebuild. However, he’s in his prime, and because the Sharks are staring at a difficult rebuild, they might look to trade him with the hope of acquiring multiple prospects and draft picks in return.
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In Meier, the Islanders would add a balanced forward to the wing, who can both create scoring chances and find the back of the net. He wouldn’t be the playmaker that Kane is or the sharpshooter that Jordan Eberle was, but he’d upgrade the top six. Moreover, Meier would be a perfect complementary player for Barzal, who provides open shots for the other skaters, not just this season but for years to come if the Islanders choose to extend him.
A lot of the questions surrounding Brock Boeser’s trade value are contingent on the direction that the Vancouver Canucks are heading in. If they are going to rebuild, they will trade away some of their star players, but if they intend to remain competitive, they’ll not only keep their roster intact but also acquire more players. Boeser was almost a healthy scratch on Dec. 3, and his agent was given permission to seek a trade, sending question marks about his future with the team. However, considering he is an elite player, entering the prime of his career at 25 years old, and has a favorable contract with three years remaining, it’s likely the Canucks will keep him.
A trade is unlikely, especially since the Canucks have an 11-12-3 record, keeping them in wild-card contention in the Western Conference, but the Islanders would benefit immensely from adding Boeser to their offense. Even in a difficult season, he has four goals and 12 assists, making him a pass-first player that the forward unit needs. Moreover, in his seven seasons with the Canucks, Boeser has been a 20-goal scorer four times and would add a scoring spark to the wing as well. The Islanders would need to trade some of their better prospects to acquire him, and they would also need to manage his contract, worth $6.6 million per season, but the move would help round out the forward unit for multiple years.
William Dufour is an internal option for the Islanders. He is still developing into an NHL-caliber player with the American Hockey League (AHL) Bridgeport Islanders and isn’t expected to get called up, but recent injuries might provide an opportunity to see what he could add to the offense.
Dufour has eight goals and four assists in 20 games this season and has a reputation as a goal scorer. Notably, in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), he scored 56 goals and 60 assists in the 2021-22 season and helped the Saint John Sea Dogs win the Memorial Cup. For the Islanders, Dufour is the player who can take on a lot of the responsibilities Palmieri had, as he is a sharp shooting forward who benefits from open shots. The team is unlikely to call him up to the NHL this season, but he is worth considering, especially if they need a spark offensively.
Fasching & Holmstrom
Hudson Fasching and Simon Holmstrom have been the short-term solution for Clutterbuck and Palmieri’s injuries. They were both called up and have been reliable stop-gap options, but the recent games have proved that they are just that. Both Fasching and Holmstrom have lower ceilings as prospects than Dufour or Aatu Raty, who is the Islanders’ top prospect, and the two skaters have been on the roster waiting for the team to overcome injuries.
Moreover, their impact has been minimal at best. Holmstrom, in six games, has only one assist despite playing on the same line as Barzal and Oliver Wahlstrom. Fasching, meanwhile, has only played one game in the NHL and was brought in for his defensive production as a fourth-line skater but was a non-factor otherwise, failing to record a point in 13:04 of ice time. The two skaters can improve in the upcoming games, but so far, they’ve proved that they aren’t reliable options on the right wing, especially if the Islanders have Stanley Cup aspirations.
Other Options for the Islanders
The Islanders can always move around players and bump a forward to the right wing. Anthony Beauvillier, who is a natural left-wing skater, plays on the right side as part of the Nelson-Lee line, while Josh Bailey and Zach Parise have played multiple positions in the forward unit. Moreover, if the team acquires a center at the trade deadline, they can move Barzal or Nelson to the wing, which would be a risky move but one that might pay off if they acquire a top-six player.
There’s no urgency for the team to acquire a forward. Clutterbuck and Palmieri will return from their injuries early enough that the Islanders won’t have a void at the position. However, if the offense continues to decline, there will be a more glaring need for them to make a move, especially considering the team’s success this season.
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.