John Tavares and Josh Bailey are tied for second in the league in scoring. The two of them and Anders Lee all have more points than Sidney Crosby. Mat Barzal is having an amazing rookie year and is surely one of the favorites to win the Calder. The offense is firing on all cylinders with the team being second in the league both in total goals and goals per game, trailing only the Tampa Bay Lightning in both categories. Aside from the Metropolitan division being annoyingly good (so good in fact that Montreal, the 4th place team in the Atlantic, would be LAST in the Metro as of December 31) all should be well in Islander country. Not so.
The other big story of the season is how terrible the defense has been. Yes, with Johnny Boychuk and Calvin de Haan injured, the defense was inevitably going to suffer, but this has been going on all year. The Islanders find themselves with the second most goals allowed and second highest goals allowed per game, trailing only the Arizona Coyotes in both categories. Jaroslav Halak, who has been playing better of late, has only a .907 save percentage while Thomas Greiss boasts a putrid .883 save percentage.
They needed a trade before de Haan and Boychuk were hurt. They really need one now, and there are a couple of different ways they can go about it. The first route being making a splash and going after one of the pie in the sky Swedes: Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson. Both are elite blueliners playing for disappointing teams. Arizona was a sneaky playoff pick and Ottawa was coming off a run to the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago. Both find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture. What would it take to get them? Well, a lot. We’d probably have to give up both of our first round picks this year and prized defensive prospect Devon Toews to even get Arizona or Ottawa to pick up the phone. There is also the issue of Karlsson’s no-trade list and whether or not the Islanders are on it. Pencil both of them under not impossible, but extremely unlikely.
Next are the more realistic targets, chiefly Vancouver’s Chris Tanev, Arizona’s Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba. None of them have the offensive numbers of Karlsson or OEL that jump off the page, but all of them would bring some responsibility in their own end which would go a long way for this team. Plus, Nick Leddy has blossomed into a bona fide number one defenseman this season, so an elite offensive skillset wouldn’t be an absolute necessity in a defenseman we were to pursue. Hjalmarsson and Tanev find themselves on teams outside the playoff picture so it wouldn’t be surprising to see one of them moved by the deadline. But why would a playoff team like Winnipeg move a player like Trouba? Money. Trouba and the Jets have been in a very public contract dispute for a couple seasons now with Trouba at one point publicly asking to be traded. They eventually reached a bridge deal but you still get the feeling that this isn’t over and Trouba could be had for the right price. For any of these, the right price could be something along the lines of a first round pick this year and perhaps a forward like Nelson.
Far and away this team’s biggest issue lies within their own end. The good news is there are available remedies for Garth to pursue. The ball is in his court.