Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
The Islanders board a flight to Dallas on Tuesday, a day earlier than they would have left under normal circumstances, to continue their nine-game road trip.
What's not normal about a Tuesday in February? In case you have been living under a rock, Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET is the NHL trade deadline. And with the Islanders engaged in a back-room brawl for the final Eastern Conference wild card spot, it's their last opportunity to search for help outside the organization -- help that could get them over the hump and into the playoffs. And that's where every team, thanks to parity that now rules the day, has a chance at the big prize.
Third place in the Metropolitan division is a pipe dream at this point, with New York trailing Columbus by 15 points with 21 games to play. With the best division in hockey getting better after Washington acquired Kevin Shattenkirk Monday night, they trail the rival New York Rangers by 14 points, making the first wild card spot and a trip into the Atlantic division bracket also an extremely long shot.
The Atlantic division is in utter chaos -- Ottawa trails first place Montreal by only four points with two games in hand -- so the Islanders could be in a dog fight right up to game 82, battling all the teams in that division while keeping a very close eye on Florida, Tampa, Philadelphia, Buffalo, and even New Jersey if New York manages to stumble, even a little. And the road, literally, will not be easy. The Islanders will play 10 games in 18 days from March 1 to March 18, with seven of those coming away from Brooklyn with two sets of back to backs.
What's waiting for them on the other side of that potentially horrific journey? Only games against the Rangers, Penguins, Bruins, and Flyers, among others. It's for that reason, and some others, that Islanders GM Garth Snow has to be a buyer at this trade deadline, even at the expense of a promising prospect.
The Islanders, under interim head coach Doug Weight, have gotten results, there is no questioning that. A 12-5-2 mark (68 percent of all possible points) is nothing to be upset about. But, has it been with a little smoke and mirrors? Underlying numbers seem to say yes.
Over their last nine games, the Islanders are 5-4-0. And in the four losses, they have allowed a staggering 20 goals while showing up for, arguably, four out of 12 periods of play (two in Ottawa and two in New Jersey). In four of their last six games, they have put less than 25 shots on goal. They are 26th in the NHL in 5v5 possession (47.4 percent) and have a PDO of 100.6, showing they are not garnering results due to inflated shooting or save percentages.
Brock Nelson has no goals in his last 10 games, collecting only four assists in that span. Ryan Strome has 3-2-5 in the same 10-game span, but two goals and three points came in one game. In six of his past seven games, he is pointless. Anthony Beauvillier has been a breath of fresh air, working as hard as any forward, but has six goals in 47 games. And at 19 years old, he now enters unknown conditioning territory.
The Islanders are 20th in the NHL in the faceoff circle, at 48.7 percent, and have allowed some bad goals and even lost a couple of games recently as a result of not being able to win a big draw.
The 'addition by getting healthy' thinking is simply not good enough at this point, and may not be enough to get the Islanders over the hump and into the playoffs. Travis Hamonic was struggling mightily before -- how will he do after 20+ games off? Shane Prince is a nice depth player, but nothing other teams are going to fear. Cal Clutterbuck can bang with the best of them, but has three goals in 45 games.
Ryan Pulock and Mathew Barzal seem to be the two most coveted Islanders prospects at this time. With the way Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech have come along so far in 2016-17, and Devon Toews developing nicely in Bridgeport and Parker Wotherspoon still to come, I say that makes Pulock -- who has been injury riddled the past two seasons and unable to land a spot with the big club -- expendable in the right deal.
Barzal, who is lighting up the WHL in assists, is a pass-first dangler who I compared to Adam Oates on the Islanders PB podcast yesterday. I'm not saying he will share the same Hall of Fame career, but in style and maybe what to expect in terms of goal-assist split. With Joshua Ho-Sang, Michael Dal Colle, and Kieffer Bellows in the system, I say if you have to move Barzal to acquire known talent to make your push, it absolutely has to be done.
The latest news from multiple sources around the league, and confirmed to SNY, is that the Islanders are pushing hard for Matt Duchene, who would help them in a number of different ways. The 26-year-old versatile, speedy forward is excellent on faceoffs and would provide a bonafide second-line center threat in addition to boosting a second power play unit that has looked drab more often than not.
The Avalanche don't have to move Duchene right now, being he has two years remaining on his current contract at a $6 million dollar cap hit. So no matter what offer Snow makes to Colorado GM Joe Sakic, the final decision is somewhat out of the Islanders' control.
As we wait, perhaps Snow turns to another club in an effort to improve his team. Edmonton, although telling TSN's Darren Dreger Tuesday morning they were not moving Jordan Eberle, could be swayed with the right phone call. Afternoon rumors had Jaroslav Halak possibly on the move, although it's hard to guess what sort of return could be coming.
It's all part of the annual deadline madness, where talk is in plentiful supply, but often leads to underwhelming results. For the Islanders and Snow's sake, the feeling is this year needs to be much different.