The New York Islanders' successful bid to construct a new arena at Belmont Park overshadowed the club's recent struggles to retain a playoff berth. With only three victories in their last 10 games entering Tuesday's contest against the Buffalo Sabres, the Isles (42 points) cling to one of the wild-card berths in the Eastern Conference.
Shaky goaltending is the prime culprit. The Isles tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss combined for a league-worst 3.50 goals-against per game. Compare that to the powerful Isles offense (second overall at 3.56 goals-for per game) and it's easy to see where their weakness is. Halak, the 32-year-old veteran starter, has won 10 of 19 starts but also carries a .906 save percentage and bloated 3.01 goals-against average. Greiss' numbers (nine victories in 17 starts, with a 3.83 GAA and .883 SP) are much worse.
Newsday's Arthur Staple observes Halak's performance has improved of late. He's 5-2-2 in his last nine starts, allowing two goals or less in five of those games. However, his history of injuries and streaky play make him a dicey gamble over the remainder of the season.
If GM Garth Snow seeks an upgrade in net, he should consider calling the San Jose Sharks. Backup Aaron Dell's numbers (seven wins in 10 starts, 1.94 GAA, .935 SP) are superior to those of Halak and Greiss. He's an unrestricted free agent in July and won't unseat Martin Jones as the Sharks' starter anytime soon. The Mercury News' Paul Gackle believes Sharks GM Doug Wilson should consider using the 28-year-old Dell as a trade chip. While such a move could be risky if Jones struggles or becomes injured, Gackle feels it's worth it if the return helps them return to true contender status this season.
Offense is a significant issue for the Sharks, slumping to 20th (2.76 goals-for per game) this season. Wilson is usually among the most active GMs near the trade deadline and could seek a scoring winger. While the Isles aren't likely to part with any of their top-six forwards, perhaps Snow could offer up young forward Joshua Ho-Sang for Dell. The 21-year-old Ho-Sang has offensive potential but can't seem to stick with the Isles. He might benefit from a change of scenery the way former Isle Nino Niederreiter did after he was shipped to Minnesota in 2013.
HURRICANES MUST FIND OFFENSE
The Carolina Hurricanes were expected to show significant improvement in 2017-18. Thus far, however, they've yet to take that big step toward perennial playoff contender status.
Lack of scoring remains a problem for Carolina. Heading into Tuesday's contest with the Montreal Canadiens, the Hurricanes sit 23rd in goals-for per game (2.74). Only three players – forwards Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm – have reached double-digits in goals.
The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun believes the Hurricanes must make adding an offensive forward a priority leading up to the Feb. 26 trade deadline. While they could draw upon their considerable blueline depth, LeBrun believes they don't want to address one problem while risking another. If GM Ron Francis doesn't want to dangle a young defenseman such as Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin or Brett Pesce, perhaps shopping his 2018 first-round pick is an option. He could also consider moving a couple of quality prospects.
Whatever the option, the Hurricanes must do something soon. They're sitting just outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture and risk missing the cut for the ninth straight season. Their fans need something to get excited about. Sitting tight because of an unwillingness to swing a deal for a scorer could send the wrong message.
RED WINGS COULD ENTER SELL MODE SOON
Last season, the Detroit Red Wings waited until the trade deadline before going into sell mode. Their performance over the next four weeks could push GM Ken Holland into the trade market by late-January.
With 33 points in 35 games heading into Tuesday's tilt with the New Jersey Devils, the Wings are nine points out of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. With only three victories in their last 10 games, they're on the brink of tumbling out of the race.
In a recent mailbag segment, MLive.com's Ansar Khan told a reader the Wings could still wait until closer to the trade deadline in hopes of getting better returns. However, he didn't dismiss the possibility that they become sellers once their playoff deficit hits double-digits.
Khan considers defenseman Mike Green as Detroit's best trade chip. A UFA in July, the 32-year-old Green likely doesn't fit into the Wings' long-term plans. Khan speculates he could fetch a low first-round selection from a playoff contender or perhaps two second rounders, pointing out they got a second- and a third-round selection last year for Brendan Smith.
Backup Petr Mrazek was the subject of recent trade speculation and could be shopped leading up to the deadline. Khan doesn't expect much of a return, perhaps a third- or fourth-rounder. Given the decline in Mrazek's performance, he might even go for as little as a fifth-round selection.
Khan doubts the Wings will move winger Tomas Tatar. Gustav Nyquist, however, is a possibility, though that move might take place in the summer. He's signed through 2018-19 with a $4.75-million annual cap hit and a no-trade clause.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly 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 The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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