At the Trade Deadline on Monday, March 2, New York Islanders General Manager Garth Snow countered on a few moves to improve the team.
The Isles acquired forward Tyler Kennedy from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a conditional pick in either the 2015 or 2016 NHL Draft. Kennedy will be a decent addition to the third and fourth-lines, who puts a lot of shots on net. During the 2009 season, Kennedy won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and has 76 games of playoff experience under his belt. He will fit right in with a tough-as-nails Isles fourth-line. His Isles debut was postponed due to an upper-body injury that he previously sustained before arriving to the team. Kennedy tallied a goal and an assist in his first game as an Islander on Monday, March 9.
Speaking of fourth-line, the return of forward Casey Cizikas is huge. This reunites Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin as the smash-hitting, energetic line that the Isles need to continue to have.
After goaltender Chad Johnson’s below mediocre performance in a 5-3 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, Feb. 28, it was time for a change. I know backup goaltenders do not get nearly enough playing time as they should to stay consistent, but Snow just sensed something with Johnson’s performances this season that he did not care for. Snow acquired goaltender Michal Neuvrith from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Johnson and a 2016 third-round pick in the draft. Neuvrith will provide a solid backup presence. In order to be a true Stanley Cup contender, a team needs to have depth and skill at all ends of the ice. This includes backup goaltenders.
Neuvrith was previously a starting goaltender for the Washington Capitals during the 2010-11 season. He compiled a record of 27-12 with a 2.45 goals against average. That season, he took his Eastern Conference leading Capitals all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Did I mention, he is only 26 years old? I can only hope he still has magic left the Eastern Conference Finals four seasons ago. If he performs well, he could sign a deal with the team to give the Isles goaltending depth for seasons to come. Neuvrith is currently 1-1 in games he has played in for the Isles. In his first game, which was a loss, the lack of shots throughout the game made it difficult for him to get into it. I believe this is “new team jitters” and that he will be his old self with time. However, that is an issue with all backup goaltenders. They do not get nearly enough playing time to feel comfortable and to get in a zone, so I can only hope he does not feel that way about every game he will play between the pipes.
Snow traded away forward Cory Conacher to the Vancouver Canucks. Conacher was acquired by the Isles this past offseason. He only appeared in 15 games for the Isles and played a majority of his time with their minor league affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
I am very glad and content with Snow keeping the Islanders’ roster intact. Switching up a roster who has clicked and has the chemistry they are having at this point in the season is the worst move a General Manager can possibly make.
There have been several bright spots for the Islanders this season, and the list can only expand.
Captain John Tavares scored goal number 32 on the season against the Florida Panthers on Saturday, March 7. This marks a career high. He currently leads the NHL in points with 72.
More bright spots include defenseman Nick Leddy signing a seven-year deal worth $38.5 million with the Islanders on Tuesday, Feb. 24. Leddy was acquired on Saturday, Oct. 4 along with defenseman Johnny Boychuk, only a few hours apart. Locking up Leddy was a fantastic move by the team. Snow has shown the Islanders fans the team will be legitimate playoff contenders for seasons to come. The Islanders now have a solid and young defensive core locked up for many seasons. Leddy is signed through the 2021-22 season; Travis Hamonic signed through 2019-20 and Calvin de Haan signed through 2016-17 for just $1.97 million in average annual value. The experience and chemistry of this still “young” defensive group will only continue to improve over their years spent together.
Another bright spot has been the goaltending of Jaroslav Halak all season long. Halak recorded his 33rd win on Friday, Feb. 27 in a 2-1 win against the Calgary Flames. This set a team record for wins by a goaltender in a single season.
Forward Anders Lee was named NHL Rookie of the Month for February. He topped all rookies tallying 15 points last month. Lee has been a contender to be named Rookie of the Year with the numbers he is putting up this season.
Kyle Okposo returned to the lineup after missing a month and a half with an eye injury. This will be the right piece that the Isles need back. Okposo was having himself a career season before going down with the injury. He will continue to be a sparkplug to the first-line.
The lead in the Metropolitan Division was a tight one about a week ago, but the are Isles currently one point back from the division lead. With a month remaining in the regular season, the Isles have a great shot at securing the top seed. Playing mostly west coast teams in the coming weeks will be a test of endurance. A Stanley Cup contender needs to be able to beat teams from both conferences. I still have a strong feeling they will come out strong and pick up more ground.