The New York Islanders have the option to give their first-round pick in either 2014 or 2015 to the Sabres as part of the Vanek trade. This year’s pick will be top five, but next year’s could be really special. Give it away, give it away, give it away now, Garth.
The New York Islanders should take their nasty medicine now so they can start moving forward without an albatross around their neck.
Even with the Islanders projected to pick in the top five of this year’s draft, they should give it away to the Buffalo Sabres as compensation in the Thomas Vanek trade. There are just too many things that could go wrong if New York decides to put off the inevitable until next year.
In case you hadn’t heard, the Islanders last October traded their first-round pick in either 2014 or 2015, a second-round pick in 2015 and Matt Moulson to Buffalo for Vanek. It was a dreadful deal at the time and got horribly worse when Vanek, a pending UFA, rejected a contract extension with the Islanders. (Vanek has since been traded to Montreal for pennies on the dollar.)
The Islanders have the option to give either this year’s or next year’s first-rounder to Buffalo. With New York sitting in fourth-last place going into the final weekend of the season, it almost seems like a no-brainer the Isles would keep this year’s top-five pick and delay the compensation until next year.
Here’s a few reasons why I think New York must forsake this year’s pick.
• The 2015 draft is considered strong, with two franchise-type prospects at the head of the class, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. New York can’t afford to miss that boat. The 2014 draft is rather mediocre.
• With the Islanders franchise on the selling block and questionable management still in place, can the Islanders really improve by leaps and bounds next season and challenge for a playoff spot, thereby getting out of lottery territory? Sure, with John Tavares healthy, it’s possible, but there are still plenty of holes – especially the five-hole – in that lineup. Obviously, a lot depends on what New York and other teams do personnel-wise in the summer, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Islanders near the bottom of the standings when pre-season predictions start coming in in August.
• If the Islanders spin their wheels and play among the bottom-feeders again, losing either McDavid or Eichel would be catastrophic. Even if the Islanders show marked improvement, but miss the playoffs, there’s that small chance they win the lottery and move up to the No. 1 pick. They can’t back out at that point.
• If the Islanders struggle out of the gate, the media attention will magnify the situation and that casts the franchise in a negative light. Remember what happened when Toronto gave up its first-round pick in 2010 to Boston in the Phil Kessel trade, then sunk to second-last place in the league.
• With the Islanders set to move to Brooklyn starting in 2015-16, it’s good marketing to have the promotion of a first-round draft pick, regardless of how high or low. Having an early pick go to Buffalo would sting badly.
• Unlike the lucky charm that swooped in from NHL head office this winter and gave Lou Lamoriello and the Devils their 2014 first-round pick back (initially lost in the Ilya Kovalchuk cap-circumvention ruling a few years ago), there will be no draft pick angel looking out for the Islanders next year.
Having pointed all this out, should the Islanders win Tuesday’s draft lottery and move up to the No. 1 spot, you keep the pick. Then take your chances in 2015. Watch for the counterpoint to this argument, pitched by my associate Matt Larkin.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor 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 Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN