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Watling: Wrapping up the trade deadline in the East Division and where the Islanders stand

Just two days after the NHL trade deadline, the MassMutual East Division saw 11 trades made by its eight teams over the last week. Out of the eight teams, only the New York Rangers did not make a move, opting to keep a slew of unrestricted and restricted free agents, including Tony DeAngelo who the Rangers considered mutually parting ways with. With plenty of movement, it is important to note some of the bigger moves around the division and what they mean for the Islanders.

Best Acquisition – Taylor Hall

The Sabres traded Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar to the Bruins for a 2021 second-round pick and Anders Bjork.

“I want to be a part of a winning team that has something that I haven’t had before,” said Hall to the media. “And that’s what makes me most excited.”

While the Islanders found a piece that fits their needs in Kyle Palmieri and even Travis Zajac, who saw time on Mathew Barzal’s wing this weekend, Boston got the best player at the deadline. Hall is a bonafide stud, just two years removed from an MVP season. Since then, he has been plagued by truly awful – I mean historically bad – teams like the Sabres. Aside from this, Hall is also shooting at a tremendously low rate of just 2.3%, compared to his career average of 10%.

With improved linemates and an overall reinvigoration of Hall’s career, expect him to come out firing on all cylinders, scoring what could be another 10 goals in 17 games, including six against the Sabres.

While I love what the Islanders did, getting Hall for just a second is an absolute steal and that cannot be ignored.

Biggest Surprise – Anthony Mantha

The Capitals trade Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, and 2021 first and second-round picks to the Red Wings for Anthony Mantha.

The Capitals arguably got better adding Mantha, who is a slightly better fit than the undersized Vrana. Mantha, at six-foot-five, has average skating abilities, a wicked shot and plenty of size to muscle his way through the opposition.

Mantha’s biggest concerns fall in his work ethic more than anything else. Similar to Hall, playing on a bad team has taken its toll on Mantha. He does not go into the proverbial dirty areas as much as he should and seems to coast through games. His biggest upside, however, is his ability to drive play. He can really produce all on his own, as seen by his 11 goals and 21 points in 42 games this season. Despite this, the Caps gave up a pretty penny to land the older and more expensive Mantha.

Vrana is a super impressive, young player who contributed to the Caps at a very solid level of 25 points in 39 games. What is most impressive is his usage – or lack thereof. According to Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic, Vrana averages just 11.7 minutes per game of five-on-five play, compared to Mantha’s 14.5. The extra three minutes has not helped Mantha’s case, however, as Vrana averages 0.75 more points per 60-minutes than Mantha, again according to Luszczyszyn. The move ultimately would have been acceptable if it was not for losing two high draft picks, which has narrowed the window even further for the Capitals. The Caps may not have another three or four years of contention left in the tank without Vrana who was expected to land a bit of a pay raise and larger role than what his $3.4 million demands.

Best Fit: Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac

The Devils trade Palmieri and Zajac to the Islanders for a 2021 first-round pick, a conditional fourth-round pick in 2022, A.J. Greer and Mason Jobst

Although the Bruins landed a great player in Hall, they are a team that desperately needed defensive help, sporting a top defensive pair of Jared Tinordi and Connor Clifton just a few days ago. 

Beyond that, the Islanders acquired a pair of players that seem to define the “Islander Way,” — hard to play against and defensively sound.

Palmieri improves a mediocre power play that can never seem to find a goal when it needs it the most, while Zajac improves the first line, adding bite and defensive prowess to the line. Another underrated part of Zajac’s game are his faceoff skills. In Sunday’s contest, he took every faceoff for the top line, winning six of nine, while Barzal did not take a single draw.

Barzal has been miserable in the faceoff circle, winning 42.3% of his draws over the course of his young career. Keeping Zajac on the top line could help Barzal stay out there in critical moments but take more of a back seat, starting out on the wing.

Post-deadline Power Rankings

  1. Washington Capitals – With or without Vrana, this team is dangerous. The team actually replaces him nicely with Mantha and the defense should continue to hold up just fine.
  2. New York Islanders – The Friday night loss to the Rangers certainly stings, but the Isles are 5-1 in their last six games. The upcoming back-to-back against the Bruins is critical, as the Islanders’ final stretch is chock full of games against the Capitals and Rangers.
  3. Pittsburgh Penguins – The Penguins have been hot recently, but with a slew of injuries, it will be tough to keep pace with the Islanders and Capitals. Fortunately for them, Jeff Carter brings depth and versatility as a center and winger. Unfortunately, the acquisition is a couple years late as Carter is 36 and has scored an OK 19 points.
  4. Boston Bruins – That defense is a MAJOR YIKES. The Bruins have plenty of games left against the Sabres and Devils, though, so watch out for them to take a big jump in the standings
  5. New York Rangers
  6. Philadelphia Flyers
  7. New Jersey Devils
  8. Buffalo Sabres




Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattWatling99

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