The biggest Islanders questions (and answers) about Bo Horvat's arrival (2023)

The Islanders made a big trade. You probably have questions. We (hopefully) can provide some answers.

How will the lines look with Bo Horvat, and without Anthony Beauvillier and Aatu Raty?

As mentioned yesterday, it seems likely that Horvat will play in the middle with Mathew Barzal on his wing. That would put two of the Islanders’ better skaters together on the same line, and a playmaker in Barzal with a finisher in Horvat.


But who skates on the other wing? Lately it had been Beauvillier with Barzal and Casey Cizikas, while Raty was centering the fourth line. Cizikas will probably have to go back to the fourth line, leaving a void on the right side in the top six (or the left side, depending on which side Barzal would skate on.)

One player that could go there is Hudson Fasching, who, while offensively limited, has impressed the Islanders’ coaching staff with his physical play and willingness to go to the front of the net. He could benefit from cleaning up more garbage in front, as Barzal and Horvat will certainly get the puck there. Fasching is currently on injured reserve, though, and has not been seen since he apparently got hurt in a game against the Bruins on Jan. 18.

If Fasching isn’t ready, Josh Bailey could return to the top six after he spent the past two games on the fourth line. But Bailey isn’t a player that seems to be in Lane Lambert’s good graces at the moment. And why would he be? It’s been an awful season so far for the longest-tenured Islanders player.

What is unlikely to happen is that Lambert will break up the Anders LeeBrock NelsonKyle Palmieri line, which, as mentioned on Saturday, has been productive since Palmieri returned on Jan. 23.

🎙️ The Athletic 🏒 Show 🇺🇸 @TheAthleticNHL @CraigCustance & @seangentille discuss the #Isles Horvat trade with @KKurzNHL and we welcome #Sabres great @RyanMiller3039


— Jeff Domet (@jeffdomet) January 31, 2023

The third line of Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zach Parise and Simon Holmstrom can remain intact. While that’s not a line that’s likely to generate much five-on-five offense, it is at least three responsible defensive players that you can feel pretty comfortable putting out there against the other team’s top guys. And let’s face it, the Islanders’ top six is going to have to be the group that kickstarts this offense.


For our purposes here, let’s say Fasching is back for the Flyers game on Feb. 6. Here’s our best guess at what the forward lines would look like for that game:

Mathew Barzal — Bo Horvat — Hudson Fasching
Anders Lee — Brock Nelson — Kyle Palmieri
Zach Parise — Jean-Gabriel Pageau — Simon Holmstrom
Matt Martin — Casey Cizikas — Josh Bailey

Does this look like one of the NHL’s best forward groups, even with Horvat? Well, no, particularly when you consider that Oliver Wahlstrom and Cal Clutterbuck could be gone for the season, and there aren’t any players in Bridgeport that could conceivably jump in at the moment. Another veteran, NHL winger still looks like a need here.

But it’s better than what it was before the trade.

How will Horvat change the power play?

Horvat will immediately slot in on the top unit, of course, and will take all the draws as one of the league’s best faceoff guys. He also thrives in the bumper position. In other words, he’s almost certainly going to replace Pageau, who will get moved to the second unit. Horvat is 10th in the NHL with 11 power-play goals; no one on the Islanders has more than Pageau’s five.

Many of Horvat’s power-play goals come on one-timers when he finds soft areas around the slot, and, again, this is another area in which it’s going to be vital that he finds chemistry with Barzal. As a left-handed shot, Horvat could use a guy on the left wall who can create space and feed him the puck, and Barzal can do that.

Assuming Noah Dobson returns from his minor undisclosed injury that kept him out for the last three games, it seems likely that Horvat will be on the top unit with him, Barzal, Lee and Nelson. That would leave a second unit of Ryan Pulock or Sebastian Aho with Pageau, Parise, Palmieri and Bailey.

How might the Islanders fit an extension for Horvat?

It was surprising that the Horvat trade didn’t come with an extension, and after some of general manager Lou Lamoriello’s quotes on Monday, it would be even more surprising if a deal doesn’t happen.


“I dispute that it’s a trade about just this year. It’s our intention to retain him, certainly, for more than this year,” Lamoriello said. “You don’t make these type of transactions without that in place. Although it’s not in place, we feel comfortable that we’ll work at getting that done.”

So let’s say that at some point Horvat agrees to an eight-year deal for $8 million annually.

If that were to happen, the Islanders would have $75.225 million tied up in salary for 2023-24 for just 16 players, according to CapFriendly. That doesn’t include Wahlstrom, a pending restricted free agent who will need a new contract, and also leaves out pending unrestricted free agents Parise, Fasching, Scott Mayfield and Semyon Varlamov. If the salary cap is $83.5 million, that leaves only a little more than $8 million to fill out the roster, including that all-important backup goalie.

Not ideal.

But one way to free up money would be a Bailey buyout, and considering the minimal impact he’s had this season, that could be on the table. Bailey is due $3.5 million in actual dollars in the final year of his deal, and a buyout would save the Islanders $2.33 million next season (and cost them just $1.16 million in dead money in 2024-25, when the salary cap should get a nice bump).

The Islanders also have to factor in what Ilya Sorokin will cost them beyond next season, as he enters the final year of his current deal at a bargain $4 million salary. Sorokin will be eligible to sign a long-term extension this summer, and that, of course, is not going to be cheap. Might the goalie command upwards of $10 million annually? And if he does, isn’t that a price that the organization will have to meet?

In other words, fitting Horvat in without blowing up the current roster for next season seems doable. But in 2024-25 and beyond, it might require some gymnastics. That’s when the lack of top prospects in the system will likely be felt, too.

What else could the Islanders do before the trade deadline?

The Horvat deal kills any potential for the Islanders getting a Timo Meier or a Jakob Chychrun. But there are still other players that could be available that might make some sense.


If it’s a winger they seek, one guy I believe that could make sense and that is on our trade board is St. Louis’ Ivan Barbashev, who has some offensive upside — he had 60 points in 81 games last season — but hasn’t been as impactful this season with 24 points in 51 games. The appeal of Barbashev is that he can play up and down the lineup. If Clutterbuck is out for the season, Barbashev could be a perfect replacement for the fourth line with Cizikas and Martin, as he was part of the Blues’ outstanding fourth line in 2019 when they won the Stanley Cup. He carries a $2.25 million cap hit, which the Islanders could easily fit, and is a pending unrestricted free agent.

Or, perhaps the Islanders are still seeking another defenseman to help them better break the puck out of their own zone. Mayfield, in particular, has struggled lately, so seeking an upgrade there might make sense. The Arizona Coyotes will be selling before the deadline, and one guy that could get moved — other than Chychrun — is Shayne Gostisbehere. Although he’s a left-handed shot and is out 4-6 weeks with an upper-body injury, perhaps the Islanders could pair him with Aho, who has the ability to play the right side.

Further, if they do add another defenseman with a high-ish salary like Gostisbehere’s $4.5 million, or even both a defenseman and another forward, they could always move Mayfield and his $1.45 million cap hit before the deadline. Someone would take him.

Was this a good trade?

Listen, I know trade grades are the in thing right now. Heck, we do them here all the time. They’re fun and interesting and spark debate. That’s what being a sports fan is all about. You disagree with them? Fine, go off (just please keep it civil and polite).

That said, this isn’t a trade that we can properly evaluate right away. I do believe that Lamoriello deserves some credit here because he went out and made an aggressive move that will help what is his team’s biggest issue right now — scoring goals. Horvat was a hot commodity around the league, and now he’s in blue and orange. Tip your hat to the man in charge.

Yes, the Islanders will almost certainly need to sign Horvat for this trade to be viewed positively. Lamoriello seems to be banking on Horvat coming to Long Island, getting acclimated to his surroundings, walking into a dressing room in which everyone seems to get along, appreciating the nice practice rink and gorgeous new arena, and then deciding he’d like to be a part of it for the long term. Frankly, it’s not a bad bet. I covered for years a general manager in Doug Wilson who did this all the time, and he did it successfully. The hardest part is getting the player in the first place, and Lamoriello has done that.

That said, it does feel a little bit like this is a move that Lamoriello had to make months ago. As I wrote on Monday, simply adding Horvat doesn’t feel like enough to make this team a contender. It might not even be enough to get them into the playoffs.


But if it’s the first of other moves to come, well … let’s just give this a little more time to play out before we come to any broad conclusions. Even though that’s not as fun.

(Photo: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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