The Islanders have made it known they are in it to win it.
General manager Lou Lamoriello made the first big move ahead of Monday’s trade deadline on Wednesday when he acquired Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the New Jersey Devils. Zajac had a no-movement clause in his contract that he agreed to waive.
The Devils agreed to retain 50% of their salaries.
Rental Players For Now
Palmieri and Zajac can become unrestricted free agents after the season, so they arrive for now as rentals as the Islanders try to fill the hole created with the season-ending injury to captain Anders Lee on March 11 in a game against the Devils.
🚨 WE'VE GOT A TRADE 🚨
— NHL (@NHL) April 8, 2021
The Islanders, as deep as they are, just got deeper. Even without Lee in the lineup, the Islanders have won eight of their last 12 games and are tied for first place in the East with the Washington Capitals.
This was a shrewd move by Lamoriello, who is a builder in the truest sense of the word. Palmieri is the jewel of this trade. Landing both of them is a bonus. Each of them was in the top five on the club in scoring this season and Palmieri has proven qualities as a consistent goal scorer.
But make no mistake. This is a calculated risk for the Islanders long term. Both Palmieri and Zajac are in their 30s and a drop off in production is to be expected.
A Deal Maker
Lamoriello flourishes at this time of year.
On Feb. 16 in 2020, he acquired defenseman Andy Greene from the Devils for a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL draft and defenseman prospect David Quenneville.
A week later, Lamoriello acquired Jean-Gabriel Pageau for three draft picks, and the former Ottawa Senators center was a key piece in the Islanders’ march to the Eastern Conference finals last season. Right away, Lamoriello signed Pageau to a six-year contract extension.
Lamoriello is familiar with the Devils organization, having served as that team’s general manager from 1987 to 2015.
Palmieri’s name was bandied about in pre-trade rumors, along with Buffalo Sabres’ Taylor Hall. But Palmieri made a better fit for the defensive-first Islanders.
— Pete Jensen 🏒 (@NHLJensen) April 8, 2021
The 30-year-old Palmieri, a first-round pick (No. 26) of the Anaheim Ducks in 2009, has scored 17 points in 34 games with the Devils this season and he has scored at least 24 goals in each of the prior five seasons.
Zajac, a 35-year-old center, who was selected by New Jersey in the first round (No. 20) of the 2004 draft, has scored 18 points in 33 games this season.
Zajac has compiled 550 points in 1,024 regular-season games with the Devils and 28 points in 57 playoff games.
Lamoriello was interested in both Devils players for not only how they play, but for how well they will fit into the locker room.
“I know who they are as people,” Lamoriello said. “Chemistry is extremely important to me, but their experience, their talents, their competitiveness, especially in this division, knowing what they have to go through, to me, is an excitement from our end of it in management, coaching and so forth.”
On a personal note, I obviously got to cover both Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac with #NJDevils. #Isles literally couldn't have brought in two better people to fit into an already tight dressing room.
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) April 8, 2021
Lee was a key part of the Islanders’ No. 1 line with Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle. In his absence, coach Barry Trotz has been employing Leo Komarov quite effectively. It will be interesting how the lines shake out with the two new additions.
Palmieri and Zajac were due to be on the ice for the morning skate.
“When we lost Anders (Lee), we didn’t know what to expect because of what he brings both on and off the ice,” Lamoriello said.
The Devils were sellers coming up to the trade deadline. They are seventh in the eight-team East Division, 14 points behind the Boston Bruins for the fourth and final playoff spot.
Lamoriello may not even be finished dealing with a few days left before Monday’s trade deadline. But this deal has to be a solid win for him and the organization.
Lamoriello is a curious study because he likes to work in the shadows and does not tip his hand publicly about the state of affairs on Long Island. But around the league, Lamoriello is so well respected and there is a trust factor with rival GMs.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) April 8, 2021
In turn, players want to play for Lamoriello and when players achieve the right to become unrestricted free agents and choose where they want to play, the Islanders are often at the top of their wish list. Not only is Lamoriello a trusted GM, but Trotz is a well-respected coach who has his values in the right place to bring out the best in his players.
It seems this deal with the Devils came to fruition in the last few days.
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Talks Broke Down
Palmieri met with Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald about re-signing with the club on Saturday. But there were some differences that came up. Then talk turned to the future of the club and the trade market. Fitzgerald told Palmieri that he had to do what was best for the organization and make the best deal possible for the club.
“When I kind of heard that the Islanders could be an option, I couldn’t have been more excited,” Palmieri said.
Palmieri was excited for the chance to go deep in the playoffs.
“The opportunity to go and be a part of a team that has a chance to do something special is something every player wants,” Palmieri said. “I’m really looking forward to this opportunity.”
Zajac also saw this trade as an exciting chance to be with a winning club.
“At this point in my career and where I’m at, I want a chance to win,” Zajac said. “I just believe this is a team that has all the aspects of a winning hockey team. I think it was just, for me, it was the right time.”
Words Of Encouragement
Zajac spoke to Islanders defenseman Greene after the trade was done.
“He speaks highly of the coaches, of the staff, the players,” Zajac said. “Obviously, you see the success he’s had this last year and how he’s playing, so it’s exciting to get back in action with him.”
The Islanders will have some lineup juggling to do in order to fit the newly acquired forwards into the lineup for Thursday’s game at home against the Philadelphia Flyers. Palmier has been playing right wing on the top line with Jack Hughes and Andreas Johnsson, and on the top power-play unit.
Islanders fans will no doubt like to see Palmieri inserted into the Islanders’ top line. Zajac would be a nice fit on the No. 2 line currently centered by Brock Nelson with Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey on the flanks. Or he may slot down further among the top nine forwards.
Zajac was playing down on the wing on a line with center Nico Hischier and Nikita Gusev. They’ve both been averaging around 17 minutes of ice time per game. But no matter how they are slotted in, this move solidifies the Islanders as the clear favorite to win the East.