By the midway point of this season, the New York Islanders were considered trade deadline “sellers.”
Their position in the standings – last in the Atlantic Division and near the bottom of the Eastern Conference – adds to the perception they’ll be targeted by playoff contenders seeking to bolster their lineups by Feb. 27.
The Islanders are one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league sitting 27th with 2.32 goals per game. They’re marginally better defensively, giving up the ninth-most goals-against per game (2.92).
Only on special teams are they among the best, with the sixth-ranked power play and eighth-ranked penalty kill.
Their first-half struggles sparked trade rumors that mostly focused on goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who is eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer.
Injuries to fellow Isles goalies Rick DiPietro and Al Montoya, however, ensure Nabokov will remain on Long Island for at least a few more weeks.
Despite a 10-12-0 record, Nabokov has a goals-against average of 2.38 and a save percentage of .919, numbers that will surely attract attention from playoff contenders looking for an upgrade or insurance in goal.
Nabokov won’t be the only pending Islanders UFA who will become a trade target.
Right winger P-A Parenteau is the Islanders’ third-leading scorer with 42 points in 47 games. He’s on pace for a career-high 74 points, which would also put him in line for a significant raise over the $1.25 million he’s earning this season.
If GM Garth Snow believes there’s a risk of losing Parenteau to free agency, he’ll put him on the trade block where he’ll attract considerable interest from contenders seeking a skilled playmaker.
Another trade candidate is center Frans Nielsen, currently sixth in team scoring with 22 points in 47 games and earning only $525,000 this season.
However, it shouldn’t be assumed these two will bolt for free agency. Last year, Snow was able to convince Matt Moulson to re-sign long-term rather than test the open market, so he might have similar success with Parenteau and Nielsen.
Veteran defenseman Steve Staios is another pending UFA and a more viable trade candidate. He’s been a healthy scratch in recent games and would attract attention from teams in the market for blueline depth.
Right winger Kyle Okposo also popped up in early-season trade rumors. He had only seven points in his first 20 games, but since Dec. 23 has been on an offensive tear, with points in 11 of his past 15 games. Any chatter suggesting he’s available has died down.
While a quick look at the standings suggests the Islanders will be “sellers,” that’s not a certainty.
Of late there’s been a scarcity of trade speculation involving the Islanders. Monday’s 3-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs aside, they’ve been on a bit of a roll, winning eight of their past 13 games and beating Detroit, Washington and Philadelphia over that stretch.
Budding superstar center John Tavares had points in all but one of those games and Nabokov has been sharp, finishing as a game star in four of his past five starts.
With Snow’s club playing its best hockey of the season, he’ll likely be unwilling to make any significant changes at this time.
If the Isles flat line in the coming weeks, though, Snow will go into sell mode. If they can find a way to gain significant ground in the standings, he’ll either stand pat at the trade deadline or become a buyer.
Rumor Focus appears Tuesdays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.