By acquiring Jaroslav Halak from the Washington Capitals Thursday, the New York Islanders and GM Garth Snow are indicating this will be an aggressive summer for them. The Isles have a goalie who St. Louis, if they could do it all over again, would probably run into the Stanley Cup playoffs with instead of Ryan Miller.
The Isles have him - so long as they can sign him.
The 28-year-old Halak, you see, is a pending UFA, hence the low price of a single fourth round pick to acquire him. If he signs, the Islanders will finally have the leading goalie they haven’t had in place for years. They should have had it with Roberto Luongo, thought they had it with Rick DiPietro and Evgeni Nabokov has been a placeholder while they’ve searched for a guy specifically like Halak.
So Snow will surely begin trying to strike a new deal with Halak as soon as possible. And to get maximum return for this trade, a contract with the goalie should be signed before June 1. That’s the deadline for the Islanders to make another big decision: keep their first round pick, or give it up to the Sabres?
As part of the putrid (from a New York perspective) Thomas Vanek trade, the Islanders have to forfeit their first round pick in either 2014 or 2015 to the Buffalo Sabres. And there’s been some debate over how they should handle this. In 2014, the Islanders are locked in at the No. 5 selection, which will land them a Michael Dal Colle or Leon Draisatl, Haydn Fleury or Nick Ritchie. Keeping the pick will for sure land them a blue chip prospect to add to a thick stable of them.
On the other hand, the Islanders weren’t supposed to be bad enough to end up with that high of a pick in the first place and next year’s draft is led by Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, who are two potential cornerstone NHL players. What if the Islanders hit another bump and end up being even worse next year? It could happen. Kyle Okposo could not reach this year’s heights, the blueline will – barring any major transactions – be a sore spot once more. Injuries? Slumps? Secondary scoring? It could all fall perfectly into place, or it could be a repeat of 2013-14. This is still a team prone to growing pains – and one that can’t give up a McDavid or Eichel, even hypothetically.
But with Halak, they’ll have the backbone they haven’t had in years and who should be a safeguard against any major catastrophe. The trade to acquire Halak was clearly a move forward – an aggressive transaction that is probably just the first of a flurry to push this team back towards the playoffs.
According to the CBC's Elliotte Friedman in his 30 Thoughts column from earlier this week, Snow recently hinted it was a strong possibility the Isles would keep this year's pick.
9. Long Island News 12 producer Rob Del Muro with a good tip: Islanders GM Garth Snow attended a season-ticket holder event last week and told one fan, "It would be a safe wager on his part that we would utilize this year's (first-round draft) pick." The team has until June 1 to let the Buffalo Sabres know about the selection. If not, Buffalo gets New York's 2015 first-rounder. The GM added the fan "could wager any amount of money because it wasn't MY money." Good line.
And now we understand why that would be a smart wager.
The Islanders need to have Halak under contract by that deadline to confidently make the decision to keep this year’s No. 5 pick, and hand over their 2015 pick to the Sabres.
That’s precisely what the plan is here.