As every nearly team does, the New York Islanders are riding the fine line this offseason between improving their current roster and looking ahead to the future. While the 2017-18 season could be extremely important in convincing captain John Tavares to stay, it would be silly to make any decision that is only beneficial in the short term.
That’s why Islanders general manager Garth Snow is absolutely correct not to trade 19-year-old center Mathew Barzal.
Elliotte Friedman wrote in his 30 Thoughts piece last week that the Colorado Avalanche are targeting Barzal and goaltender prospect Ilya Sorokin in exchange for center Matt Duchene. Frans Nielsen left a glaring hole at second-line center last summer, and acquiring Duchene would be a slam dunk for the Islanders. It could turn New York into legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
Not only that, but off the ice, the Big City media would love it. Hundreds of columns would come out about how Islanders ownership kept their word and truly wants to win. A year from now, the media might even write about how “the Duchene deal” helped keep Tavares in Brooklyn.
Any way one cuts it, Duchene would be a huge PR victory for the Islanders. On the ice, though, it would only be a short-term solution.
Barzal played just two NHL games last season before returning to juniors, but he still has tremendous potential. In 41 games with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, he scored 10 goals and 79 points. Then he added seven goals and 25 points in 16 postseason games.
Including the playoffs, Barzal has 49 goals and 218 points in 133 games over the past two seasons. He has played for the same junior team for four seasons, and each year his points-per-game average increased.
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And scoring isn’t the only thing he does well. The scouting report of Barzal at Eliteprospects.com calls him a “complete player with strong hockey sense.” He is definitely an offensive forward, but he’s reliable in his own end as well.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have won three Stanley Cups since 2009 with its biggest strength up the middle in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Tavares and Barzal could be the Islanders’ version of that 1-2 center punch for years to come.
Yes, with Duchene, that 1-2 center punch would be in Brooklyn next season, but for how long? Duchene’s contract expires after the 2018-19 season. That gives the Islanders a two-year window, and after that Duchene could be gone.
Of course, anybody who trades for Duchene will likely do so with the intent of re-signing him. Still, Connor McDavid’s massive Edmonton Oilers contract, which dropped this month, sent general managers back to the drawing board as far as planning salary cap space. If Tavares demands around $10 million per season on his next deal, it’s quite conceivable Duchene will ask for more than $8 million.
That’s a big chuck of the cap pie for two players at just one position, and it might not even work with what else the Islanders have locked up long term. Plus at that point, Duchene will be 28 while Barzal will still be 22. Wing Jordan Eberle is going to be a free agent on July 1, 2019, too.
Barzal, on the other hand, is still on his entry-level deal and will only cost $894,167 for the next two seasons. After that, he’s just a restricted free agent, so even if he breaks out the Islanders would have a couple of years to make room before signing him to a big deal.
In a lot of ways, trading for Duchene makes sense for the Islanders. They already added Eberle this summer to play alongside Tavares; Duchene would solidify the last question mark in New York’s top-six.
But the cost of Barzal should be far too great for Snow. It might take another year or two, but he could be an All-Star at a very affordable price by the time Duchene is ready to sign his next deal. This season is important, but giving up the 20-year-old for the Avalanche center would be a costly mistake for the Islanders.
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