Twenty-two days after acquiring pending UFA Jaroslav Halak from the Washington Capitals, the New York Islanders have signed the goalie to a four-year deal worth $4.5 million against the salary cap.
It’s no coincidence the Halak news broke at the same time word came down that the Islanders would keep their 2014 first round pick, and instead give up their 2015 first-rounder to Buffalo, as part of the miserable, miserable Thomas Vanek trade.
As we said on the day the Islanders picked up Halak, the aggressive move for a capable No. 1 signaled their full intent to keep the pick and turn around a broken season to make a charge back towards the playoffs. With Evgeni Nabokov’s contract up – and the team needing an upgrade in net anyway – Halak will provide a steadier, more long-term backstop to the Islanders blueline. After being traded to Washington from St. Louis at the deadline, where he had a heavier workload, Halak registered a .930 SP and 2.31 GAA. Seems to bode well for the Islanders.
But, of course, more work needs to be done on a roster that spiraled its way into the No. 5 overall pick at this June’s draft. Secondary scoring remains a problem. They need a proven leader on defense. They, eventually, need quality depth to keep up with their stronger opponents.
The Halak signing, and the retention of the No. 5 pick, signal that GM Garth Snow is more than ready to be an active player on this summer’s market. The time for a gradual ascension is over: the Islanders absolutely have to be a playoff team next season. Most of the time, the main goal for an NHL team is to win the Stanley Cup – but for the Islanders, 2014-15 is all about staying out of the draft lottery.
If they don’t, not only should the GM be on the firing line (har, har), but the team could be out another franchise player named Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Remember, they got a few months of Vanek in exchange for this risk.
So June 27-28 should be an interesting time for the Islanders. The draft has acted like a second trade deadline in recent years, with many big names changing places on the floor. Last year, Cory Schneider going to New Jersey was the big splash. The Penguins, Sharks, Canucks and Islanders are the teams most likely to do something large this year.
Could Snow even make the No. 5 pick available if he can fill a roster hole or two?
Desperate times call for desperate measures. And these Islanders are desperate.