The NHL playoff race is heating up, with teams jockeying for postseason positions as the March 3 trade deadline looms. Once the deadline hits, it will be up to each team’s GM to decide whether to be a buyer, a seller or to stand pat. This is serious business, as any moves made at the deadline can have serious ramifications for the team, not only this season, but for many down the road.

This season, there have been a surprising amount of teams that have defied expectations. Take, for example, the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. A team with a strong, young core, the Kings were projected to make a deep playoff run this year in an attempt to repeat as champions. Instead, the team has dropped off recently, losing seven of their last 10 games and falling out of playoff position. The Kings would be a good example of a team that should stand pat at the deadline as, given the team’s recent struggles, it may be unwise to squander the future for a chance to win this season.

Another team that has had a surprising season is the New York Islanders. As a team that will be moving next season, the Islanders have done a pretty good job of sending their current arena, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, out with a bang. The surprising team from Long Island has found stability through trade-acquisition Jaroslav Halak, a goaltender that brings enough skill and talent to the table to keep the Islanders in games, which is key considering the struggles in net that the Islanders have had in recent years. They have also used salary-cap dumps Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, both defensemen, to improve their perennially awful defensive game.

This increase in goaltending and defensive skill, along with another strong campaign by star center John Tavares, has put the Islanders in good position to challenge for the Stanley Cup (they are first in the Metropolitan Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference as of Tuesday morning). A recent injury to Tavares’ linemate Kyle Okposo will pose a challenge to the Islanders, but given their performance this season, they should have no trouble making the playoffs and perhaps making a run.

The Islanders should be buyers at the trade deadline, as this is the best the team has been in years, and may be the best opportunity for the team to become champions for the first time since the 80s.

In other local news, the New York Rangers are having another strong campaign, while the New Jersey Devils are faltering when it matters most.

The Rangers have been very hot lately, going 20-6 since Dec. 8 and defeating many of the NHL’s best teams. However, a recent vascular injury to star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has put the Rangers in a tough position; he will be out for at least three weeks. Their backup goaltender, Cam Talbot, is a good fill in for Lundqvist, as he has shown himself to be capable of holding down the fort during any of Lundqvist’s absences. However, it remains to be seen if Talbot will be able to keep the Rangers in their playoff position (they are fourth in the Metropolitan Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference), as he just lost back-to-back games against Western Conference foes – the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars – and didn’t look that sharp.

The Rangers must be buyers at the trade deadline, as they require a bottom-six grinder that can win face-offs (their face-off percentage is awful), and may acquire a veteran goaltender in order to take the slack off of Talbot until Lundqvist returns. With the right tweaks, the Rangers can return to the playoffs and possibly challenge for another championship.

As previously stated, the Devils have been struggling this year.  Though they have turned their game around lately, winning six of their last 10, the Devils still sit in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference.

With the trade deadline rapidly approaching and the team too far out of the playoffs at this point, it is time for the Devils to be sellers. They have a number of pending free agents that they should ship out for draft picks, including the NHL’s current oldest player, Jaromir Jagr, who has played very well these past two seasons in New Jersey. Despite decent play from goaltender Cory Schneider, the Devils just haven’t done enough to win this season, and must write it off as a loss and get what they can for their aging veterans.

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