New York Islanders make splash as NHL’s trade deadline nears, acquire Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac


The New York Islanders acquired New Jersey Devils winger Kyle Palmieri on Wednesday night, landing one of the most coveted forwards ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

The Islanders acquired Palmieri, 30, and veteran center Travis Zajac, 35, from New Jersey for depth forwards A.J. Greer and Mason Jobst, the Islanders’ first-round pick in the 2021 NHL draft and a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.

The Devils retained 50% of the salaries for both players in order to make the trade work under the $81.5 million salary cap. Palmieri’s cap hit of $4.65 million dropped to $2.325 million; Zajac’s $5.75 million cap hit dropped to $2.875 million. Both players are unrestricted free agents after the season.

Palmieri, who had received interest from other teams, including the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, heading into the deadline, has eight goals and nine assists in 34 games this season. But it’s his tenacity as a forward and his offensive pedigree that had teams lining up for him after the Devils made it clear they intended to trade him: Palmieri had scored 132 goals from 2015 to 2020 with the Devils.

“It’s been a bit of a crazy week, starting with the scratch Sunday,” said Palmieri, who did not play this week for New Jersey while talks were occurring. “When I heard the Islanders were an option, I couldn’t have been more excited. Little bit of anxiety waiting for that call, but difficult to contain my excitement.”

The Islanders had sought a veteran winger at the deadline, after losing captain Anders Lee for the season with a right knee injury.

Zajac, who waived his no-trade clause to join the Islanders, is a versatile center who played on New Jersey’s power play and on their penalty kill. He has 18 points in 33 games this season. Zajac had been a Devil since 2006-07, playing all 1,024 of his NHL games with the franchise. He was drafted 20th overall in 2004 by current Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello, who spent over two decades at the helm in New Jersey.

“I think at this point I wanted a chance to win,” Zajac said. “I believe this is the team that has all the aspects of a winner. I want to help them in any way possible. For me it was the right time. I was fortunate to have such a great career in New Jersey, tons of great people.”

The condition — the fourth-round selection in the deal — relates to the length of the Islanders’ postseason run. If New York makes the Stanley Cup Final, the pick will move to the third round in either 2022 or 2023. At that point, the Islanders will have the option to decide which one they’d like to transfer.

The Devils now have nine picks in the 2021 NHL Draft. And it’s the second consecutive season they found a trading partner with the Islanders. Before the league paused last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Islanders acquired former Devils defenseman and captain Andy Greene for a prospect and a draft pick. The Islanders went on to advance to the Eastern Conference finals after play resumed in the Toronto bubble.

“I feel my relationship with Lou is extremely strong. There’s a trust factor between the both of us, and that’s important to Lou and it’s very important to me,” Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “Last year, we were dealing with the same thing … there are players that Lou values on our team, for obvious reasons.

“For me, players want to play for Lou, especially his ex-players, and I think that’s important through all this and Travis was no different. He knows what the environment’s going to be, he knows what the expectations will be.”



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NHL trade grades – New York Islanders swing big again in adding Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac from the New Jersey Devils


The New York Islanders have made a splashy play ahead of the NHL’s Monday trade deadline, dealing for veteran New Jersey Devils forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac.

The Isles dealt depth players A.J. Greer and Mason Jobst to the Devils, along with their first-round pick in the 2021 draft and a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2022 draft. The Devils will be retaining 50% of Palmieri and Zajac’s cap hits as part of the terms.

How did both general managers do in this swap? Here are our grades for the trade:

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 on the ice. I also know what kind of people they are and what they bring to the locker room. Chemistry is very important for me,” he said.

They’ve played against these Islanders with frequency. They’ve played with New York defenseman Andy Greene, who was a career Devils defenseman before Lamoriello reached over to Jersey and added him for the Islanders at last season’s trade deadline. For better or for worse, there are no surprises here about the players the Islanders acquired.

It’ll mostly be for the better.

Palmieri is having a down year — there’s no getting around that. The question is whether a short-term change in scenery can reignite his offense. He’s been better than 0.33 goals per game since 2015-16; this season, he’s at 0.24, with eight goals in 34 games. He has not been lower than 0.66 points per game during that span; this season, he’s at 0.50. Palmieri has some encouraging underlying numbers (51.41 expected goals percentage). This isn’t a case of his production hitting some kind of sudden, steep decline. Whether they deploy him on the left of Mathew Barzal or on the right of Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Palmieri is going to help fill the offensive void left by the loss of Anders Lee for the season.

Zajac was an interesting addition to the deal. His best days are behind him, and he has managed a 46.88 expected goals percentage at 5-on-5. Like Palmieri, he’s been a sub-replacement-level player for the Devils this season. His calling card used to be as a penalty killer, but he has been ineffective there, too.

What he is at age 35 is a strong character player who can chip in on offense (18 points in 33 games) while playing a bottom-six role. It also gives the Islanders considerable experience and depth at the center spot: Barzal, Brock Nelson, Pageau, Casey Cizikas and now Zajac. Lamoriello drafted him. Lamoriello knows him. He’ll be properly cast by Barry Trotz.

This isn’t the kind of trade that secures a Stanley Cup for the Islanders. But it is 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 as having added vital pieces to complete the puzzle. And it didn’t cost them much at all, given that the return didn’t include an upper-tier prospect and did include a first-round pick in a very mysterious draft.


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 — then one wonders if the Devils couldn’t have acquired a prospect, rather than a low first-round pick in a draft that many general managers admit is a complete crapshoot thanks to the lack of in-person scouting and other COVID-19-related impacts.

Essentially, that’s what the trade was: Palmieri for a first-rounder. Greer and Jobst are depth talents on expiring contracts, although Greer has the potential to contribute. Zajac’s trade value was extremely limited due to his age, effectiveness and full no-trade clause. It was likely going to be a team in the New York metropolitan area or back home in Winnipeg, or it was nothing. So the conditional fourth-rounder for Zajac is what it is.

As I’ve written about before, it’s a weird NHL trade deadline. Maybe given all the odd forces affecting teams, this was the best return that GM Tom Fitzgerald could get for Palmieri in a down season. That’s something we’ll know for sure when the dust settles after Monday’s deadline.

And it’s not out of the question that the Devils have gotten a first-round pick for a player who‘s back on their roster next season via unrestricted free agency. Fitzgerald called trading Palmieri “a business decision between Kyle and this organization at this moment.” I asked Fitzgerald about that possibility; he shut it down by saying Palmieri is now on another team and he can’t comment. Which wasn’t a “no.”

Still, the value coming back to New Jersey for having retained 50% of both players’ salaries should have been a bit more than a low first-rounder, two depth players and a fourth-round pick that becomes a third if the Islanders make the Stanley Cup Final.

Now they’re left hoping that the Islanders stumble a bit to make that first-rounder a higher one. Well, everyone but their GM is hoping that, apparently.

“I hope the pick we get is the 32nd pick. I hope both of these gentlemen win the Cup,” said Fitzgerald.



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