overlord esteemed colleague Brian Costello laid out a compelling case for the New York Islanders giving their 2014 first-round pick to Buffalo as part of the Thomas Vanek trade. He makes some excellent points, but I disagree. The Isles should work with what they have and use their selection this June. Here’s why;
It’s far easier to plan a team’s future working with what you know. No one can take away that the New York Islanders possess a high first-round selection in the 2014 draft. That pick can end up as high as first and no worse than sixth, depending on the draft lottery. Mr. Costello is correct to say the 2014 draft class is weaker than 2015′s projects to be, but that only applies once you leave the top 10. In the top five or six picks, there are plenty of talented players with superstar upside. Does 2014 have a potentially once-in-a-generation find like Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel? No, but there’s no way of knowing the Isles can land those two anyway. What we do know is they are guaranteed a player from the talented group of Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, Leon Draisatl, Michael Dal Colle, Brendan Perlini, Willie Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen, among others. Why throw away a sure thing for a maybe?
The Islanders will almost certainly be better next year. In the shortened 2012-13 campaign, this team (albeit with Matt Moulson and Andrew MacDonald still there) was good enough to make the playoffs and give Pittsburgh a healthy six-game fight. Next year, John Tavares should be fully healthy and reunited with Kyle Okposo on a powerhouse line. The Isles should also have Ryan Strome in the lineup all season. He’s the No. 5 overall prospect in THN Future Watch and has little left to prove at the American League level, having ripped up the circuit for 49 points in 37 games with Bridgeport. He tallied a respectable 18 points in 37 NHL games this season, too, and will give the Isles a legit secondary scoring threat. A center core of Tavares, Strome, Frans Nielsen, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson ain’t half bad. Maybe hulking blueliner Griffin Reinhart, No. 11 in Future Watch, makes the jump by next year, too.
A big reason the Isles missed the playoffs: their league-worst .894 save percentage. Evgeni Nabokov, Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson won’t do. My money’s on GM Garth Snow nabbing a free agent like Brian Elliott, Jaroslav Halak or Jonas Hiller to take over starting duty.
The sum of those personnel improvements should be a climb in the standings. If you’re skeptical, you at least can’t expect this team to regress next year, which it would need to do for any mathematically realistic shot at McDavid and Eichel. It’s more likely the 2015 pick is lower than this year’s, so why on earth would you defer the 2014 selection?
Saving the pick for next year sends a horrible message to an already-suffering fan base. “Hey everyone, we’ve sucked for the better part of a decade, and we’re not hiding the fact we really, really hope to suck even worse next year.” That’s the message withholding the selection sends, as you don’t do so with any intention besides tanking for McDavid or Eichel.
The Isles have John Tavares as their centerpiece – and at an amazing discount. They’ve amassed enough young pieces that adding another in this June’s draft should put them on the road to relevance. It’s not worth waiting a year, especially when there’s nothing close to a guarantee that waiting will yield a superior draft selection.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin