The New York Islanders played a smashing game leading up to the NHL’s trade deadline on Monday, trading for veteran New Jersey Devils forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac.
The islands shared depth players AJ Greer and Mason Jobst to the Devils, along with their first round pick in the 2021 draft and a conditional fourth round in the 2022 draft. The Devils will keep 50% of Palmieri and Zajac’s top hits as part of the terms.
How have both general managers fared with this exchange? Here are our trading figures:
GM Lou Lamoriello said it best when explaining the islanders’ trade for Palmieri and Zajac: there are no surprises with these two. “I know what they bring to the ice. I also know what kind of people they are and what they bring to the locker room. Chemistry is very important to me,” he said.
They have regularly played against these islanders. They played with New York defender Andy Greene, who was a career Devils defender before Lamoriello reached out to Jersey and added him for the Islanders on last season’s trade deadline. For better or worse, there are no surprises here about the players the Islanders acquired.
It will usually be for the better.
Palmieri is having a bad year – there is no denying it. The question is whether a brief change of scenery can rekindle his offense. He is better than 0.33 goals per game since 2015-16; this season he is at 0.24, with eight goals in 34 games. It has not been lower than 0.66 points per game during that period; this season it stands at 0.50. Palmieri has some encouraging underlying numbers (51.41 expected goal percentage). This is not the case where his production shows some kind of sudden, steep decline. Whether deploying him to Mathew Barzal’s left or Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s right, Palmieri will help fill the attacking void left by Anders Lee’s loss for the season.
Zajac was an interesting addition to the deal. His best days are behind him, with a 5-on-5 expected goal score of 46.88. Like Palmieri, he was a sub-replacement level player for the Devils this season. His calling card was once a penalty killer, but he hasn’t been effective there either.
What he is at the age of 35 is a strong character player who can compete in offense (18 points in 33 games) while playing a role of the lowest six. It also gives the islanders considerable experience and depth in the middle spot: Barzal, Brock Nelson, Pageau, Casey Cizikas and now Zajac. Lamoriello has summoned him. Lamoriello knows him. He is correctly cast by Barry Trotz.
This is not the kind of trade that secures a Stanley Cup for the islanders. But it’s the kind of trade that, if they’re so blessed to hoist the chalice at the end of the season, they’ll look back on adding essential pieces to complete the puzzle. And it didn’t cost them much at all, as the return didn’t include a higher outlook and a first-round pick in a very mysterious version.
If the market for Palmieri was as robust as it appeared to be – the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins were among the reportedly interested teams – you might wonder if the Devils couldn’t have acquired a prospect rather than a low scoop. round pick in a concept that many general managers admit is a complete mess thanks to the lack of personal scouting and other COVID-19-related effects.
In essence, that was what the trade was: Palmieri for a first-rounder. Greer and Jobst are deep talents at contract expiration, although Greer has the potential to contribute. Zajac’s trade value was extremely limited due to its age, effectiveness and complete trade ban. It would probably be a team in the New York metropolitan area or at home in Winnipeg, or it was nothing. So the conditional fourth rounder for Zajac is what it is.
As I’ve written before, it’s a weird NHL trading deadline. Perhaps given all the strange forces affecting the teams, this was the best return GM Tom Fitzgerald could get for Palmieri in a low season. We’ll know for sure once the dust settles after Monday’s deadline.
And it cannot be ruled out that the Devils have been given a first round pick for a player who will be back on their roster next season through unlimited free agency. Fitzgerald called the Palmieri trade “currently a business decision between Kyle and this organization.” I asked Fitzgerald about that possibility; he concluded by saying that Palmieri is now on a different team and that he cannot comment. That was not “no”.
Still, the value coming back to New Jersey for keeping 50% of both players’ salaries should have been a little more than a low first-rounder, two depth players, and a fourth-round pick that becomes a third if the Islanders use the Stanley Cup final.
Now they hope the islanders will stumble a bit to make that first-rounder a higher one. Well, everyone except their GM apparently hopes.
“I hope the choice we get is the 32nd choice. I hope both men win the cup,” said Fitzgerald.