With the New York Islanders continuing to win games on the road, defeating the Minnesota Wild 4-1 last night, they improve to a 32-19-7 record which is good for a 100 point pace. The Isles stopped the Wild’s 4 game winning streak with goals from John Tavares, Matt Martin and two from Frans Nielsen. The 9th place team (playing the %) are the New Jersey Devils, who are on pace for 90 points. At this point of the year, it just takes and Isles win or a Devils loss, and a Flyers loss and you can lock in the Islanders for a playoff spot. There’s no need to wait another 15 games and go by the traditional point system. The Devils, Flyers and Hurricanes simply won’t catch up to the Islanders.
Where will the Islanders finish in the standings is a better question. Now that I’ve put some ease into some fans who were nervous that the Isles would be out of a playoff spot, I’ll make this a little more interesting. The Islanders first round opponent could still be one of the following teams: Rangers, Penguins, Panthers, Washington. I think the Rangers and Penguins are the more likely of the four teams to play in the first round. The Islanders would have to go into another 2nd half stumble, similar to the one last year, and then the Isles have a shot at Florida and the Caps in the first round. I still don’t see this stumble playing out so look for the Rangers and Penguins in the first round.
As far as the trade deadline goes, the Washington Capitals ruined my bigger piece on the deadline by trading for the one defenseman I was hoping the Isles would make, Mike Weber from the Buffalo Sabres. To me Mike Weber is what Adam Pelech now resembles: Stay-at-home defense, keeps the game simple, and uses the body to keep other forwards aware of his presence. Yes, I would like the Isles to get themselves another defenseman, Strictly for the reason of depth. We saw last year that the Islanders lost Travis Hamonic, Lubomir Visnovsky, and Calvin de Haan just before and during the first round series with the Capitals. Last year the starters were replaced by youngsters Matt Donovan, Scott Mayfield and Griffin Reinhart. Only Scott Mayfield remains from the trio, Adam Pelech remains injured and Ryan Pulock has yet to play in an NHL game this year, they may instead be asked to take the Bridgeport Sound Tigers into a deeper playoff run. So now that Mike Weber is off the radar, who should the Isles target? This is where things get complicated.
First, there’s still a bunch of teams who remain in the playoff hunt, but that could all change by the weekend. Many already know that the Oilers, Jets, Blue Jackets, Toronto, Buffalo are out of contention. Toronto has already started selling off and getting ready for the draft. However, by the weekend you could probably include the rest of Canada: Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary & as sellers. The only player I would even consider from the Canucks is Matt Bartkowski as Dam Hamhuis will be an expensive rental and I’m not sure Garth wants one of those. Bartkowski may not cost much and he’s played with Johnny Boychuk in Boston and does have some playoff games under his belt. Kris Russell from Calgary appears to be ready to sign an extension with the Flames, so I don’t think he’s actually on the market. Justin Schultz has popped up many times as trade bait, but to be honest folks we have a younger version to him on this team in Ryan Pulock. Yes people have been wondering why Pulock has not played in the NHL yet and it’s because he has been working on his defensive game. When I picked Ryan Pulock to be the Isles 1st round draft pick, I basically said he reminds me of Brian McCabe with a wicked slap shot. That is his potential. Today he’s Justin Schultz, but Pulock may have a better defensive game at this point, so bringing in a player like Schultz may actually hinder the team come the playoffs. Now I’ll go a step further. Let’s say Pulock makes a case to stay, then if I’m the Islanders I make a low round trade for someone like Stefan Elliot from Nashville, a defenseman who can run a powerplay who is now in the minors. Nikita Nikitin is very interesting. He’s a Russian version to Griffin Reinhart: has the size, doesn’t really use it, is a stay-at-home defenseman but has more NHL experience and some playoff time with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Then you have the Brian Strait’s of the hockey world in Mark Fraser playing in Ottawa’s minor league system, or Matt Irwin playing in Providence for the minor league Bruins. After looking past Canada, many of the other teams are still in the race, so unless this is a multiple player shakeup, I’m not sure if Islanders fans should expect a lot on Monday.
This years trade deadline will go one of two ways: “We got who?” or go out quietly into the night. If you look at the likelihood that the Isles will play the Rangers or Pittsburgh first, then Isles may take their chances with the current roster and look for the team to add some defensive depth so the younger players can get bigger minutes down in Bridgeport and don’t have to be called up during their own playoff run. The Rangers and Pittsburgh must make trade deadline moves to improve their teams. They don’t have enough to go seven games with the Islanders this year, especially if the Islanders play a similar style like they did against the Caps last year. If the Rangers and Penguins both stand pat, so could the Isles, but I don’t think that’ll be the case. They know that it’ll probably be the Caps in the second round so if the Caps add a defenseman, so should the Isles. If the Islanders can get themselves a good depth puck moving defenseman with a slight scorers touch on the inexpensive side, 1993 may be but a memory this year. Remember what wins in the playoffs: defense and goaltending. The Isles already have the goaltending, now it’s time for the defensive help.