By Daniel Friedman
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As we approach the trade deadline, the Islanders, like many teams at this point in the season, find themselves at a crossroads.
General manager Garth Snow has to determine if he'll be buying, selling, tinkering or standing pat. He'll have to go with his gut feelings, but also take into account the views of his coaches, advisors and scouting staff.
There are two main questions here. First, are the Isles one or two pieces away from contending for a Stanley Cup? And second, are those one or two pieces available at a price that makes sense for them to pay?
Talent-wise, I think they're very close. I don't see the consistency there every night, however, and I'm highly skeptical that they can make a deep run with Jack Capuano behind the bench.
However, it is important to note that the Isles appear to be jelling at the right time. They are in the midst of a 7-1-1 run, including three straight wins to open their brutally long road trip, and now have 73 points, fourth-most in the Eastern Conference heading into Friday's games.
But on the other side of that coin, they do have a bunch of players who are impending free agents. So Snow is stuck deciding between going for it now, or staying the course with an eye on really improving the team in the offseason, when asking prices in trades are more manageable, due in part to some teams' issues getting under the salary cap.
I'd say the Isles' biggest need right now is secondary scoring, mainly because Anders Lee hasn't been productive enough and Mikhail Grabovski has been both unproductive and injury-prone. If they can find a deal that doesn't require mortgaging a big part of their future, it might be worthwhile to pursue it.
As I've said many times, I don't think they "need" a star winger to play alongside John Tavares. I think franchise cornerstones and elite playmakers like Tavares make their linemates better. As evidenced by Tavares' recent play, he's the motor that runs the machine. He has 23 points in his last 22 games, following what was, for him, a brutal start.
However, if Snow can infuse more secondary scoring into the top six (whether on the Tavares line or not), that can make a huge difference.
Here are some names that could be targets:
The Bruins are reportedly nowhere near close to re-signing the 30-year-old Swede, who's set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. The asking price for Andrew Ladd might've been too high, but Eriksson should come cheaper because of his health woes. He'd be an excellent edition to the Islanders up front.
Having a physical winger with offensive ability is something that Snow has craved for a while, and Hartnell certainly fits that bill. It's pretty easy to imagine him playing alongside Tavares. He's rumored to be on the market and has four years left on his contract. Getting him would require more than a rental would cost, but with the apparent imminent departure of Kyle Okposo, Hartnell would be a worthwhile replacement.
Vrbata's best days are behind him, but the Isles wouldn't need more from him than what he has to offer. He'd slot in nicely as a complimentary goal-scorer.
Boedker is an intriguing name because he's only 26 and, though inconsistent, is quite talented. He might be the best low-risk, high-reward option available. His skating ability would allow him to mesh well with the Isles' current forward group.
I don't think the Islanders should trade for a defenseman, just because I don't see a player out there that's available and makes sense. Dan Hamhuis could be an option, but his health has always been a concern. I would kick the tires on him if Ryan Pulock is not going to get a shot to play and Calvin de Haan's injury winds up being more severe than initially anticipated.
I would trade Okposo or Travis Hamonic if the right deal came along.
For example, if Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman were to offer Jonathan Drouin in a deal that includes Okposo but doesn't go overboard, I'd make that move. Jacob Trouba would be excellent value in a trade for Hamonic.
If a team gets desperate enough and is willing to pay a heftier price to get one of those players, the Isles might be able to maximize their return. I would keep the phone lines open.
My prediction is that Snow will tinker a bit, but won't make any splashes. I think he's holding out until draft day to make more significant moves, something that, historically, has worked out well for him.
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