The National Hockey League and most of its players are currently enjoying their ten-day winter vacation as nations prepare to do battle in Sochi, Russia in the 2014 winter Olympics.
Many of the teams played a very compressed and hectic schedule leading up to this point and with the most games any team has left to play sitting at 25 across the league, playoff probabilities are starting to come into focus, especially for teams with a tremendous uphill battle to climb. Like our New York Islanders.
Currently last in the Metropolitan division with a record of 22-30-8 for 52 points, the Islanders sit 14 points back of the Philadelphia Flyers for 3rd place in the division and 12 points shy of the last wild card berth in the Eastern conference. Being tied with Toronto for the most games played in the East at 60, that only leaves 44 points on the table the rest of the way. So you can see where my realism is coming from.
It was more than just the November/December annual swoon that did New York in this year. Injuries to key performers and players forced to play greater roles than anticipated combined with a 8-14-8 home record and a 6-14-3 mark against division foes have surely piled on. Not to mention a talent laden power play that ranks only 21st in the entire league and the second to last ranked penalty kill.
What it all amounts to is decision time for general manager Garth Snow come March 5, the annual trading deadline in the league. Teams and their management close to contending for the Stanley Cup look to add that one or two pieces that they think can put their team over the top. While teams like the Islanders look to sell off worthy assets and continue building for the future. It is widely assumed now that the Islanders will surely be sellers and not buyers.
What Snow holds is very clear. Now it’s a matter of seeing what the league will ante up for it. So far, rival general managers have been reluctant to meet the asking price for soon to be free agents Thomas Vanek and Andrew MacDonald but as Lyle Richardson of Spector’s Hockey and the Sporting News has proclaimed; “Never underestimate a general manager’s ability to grossly overpay at either the trade deadline or in the free agent market”.
Let’s start with Vanek, the most shiny chip that Snow holds currently. At 30 years old and set to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, it is widely assumed that he wants to return to his wife’s hometown of Minnesota and sign with the Wild over the summer. His comments to the Islanders media about giving Snow a chance to re-sign him ring hollow and scripted. There really is no significant chance that comes to fruition.
After beginning the season in Buffalo with 4-5-9 in 13 games, he has produced 15-25-40 in 44 games skating with Islanders captain John Tavares. This is a man who has averaged 34 goals per season in his National Hockey League career and is a proven creator, not a picture of opportunity. He could be the missing wing for a number of teams that feel close to the ultimate prize. The latest rumors have the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins as interested suitors after the Detroit Red Wings figured he was too rich for their blood.
With Snow starting the bidding at a 1st round draft pick, sources claim he also wants an NHL ready prospect at a minimum. The name Tyler Toffoli has been thrown around a lot in Islanders circles as someone who could make that trade happen. At 21 years old and 6’1, 200 lbs, the exciting Kings prospect has scored 10-9-19 in 39 games this year, being bounced around from line to line. But the Kings have been said to be very lukewarm, if not downright frigid, on parting with him in any package. They might prefer a cheaper option like Sam Gagner of the Edmonton Oilers instead.
Under no circumstance or scenario can I see a goaltender coming back to the Island in any of these deals. That is an issue that will attempt to be solved once again in the off-season through free agency.
As far as defenseman Andrew MacDonald goes, he also will command something of a return at the deadline. Forced to play minutes way beyond his comfort level, including quarterbacking the first power play unit in the absence of Lubomir Visnovsky, he can still be a capable 3rd or 4th d-man on a team looking to make a splash in the playoffs. He leads the National Hockey League in blocked shots and whether you want to buy into the statistic or not, it’s certainly a trait that teams love to have in the post season.
With his contract demands at an exorbitant 5mm per year for 4 to 5 years, there is no way Snow caves into that demand. The best offer that Snow did make was even more than most Islanders fans were comfortable with at 4 years/16mm, something that was quickly rejected by Andrew’s agent.
The one team mentioned most in trade talks about MacDonald have been the Boston Bruins, who would look to surrender more than likely a 2nd round draft pick to acquire his services. If Snow continues to, as sources have speculated, ask for a first rounder for him, it could be another P.A. Parenteau situation, with the player leaving in the summer and bringing no return to the club. The return for Mark Streit, after waiting so long to try and come to terms was as inconsequential as you could possibly get, if you want to get real technical.
Josh Bailey, in the midst of a very disappointing season both offensively and defensively, unfortunately has no value around the league now and will stay on Long Island for the foreseeable future.
Michael Grabner is a player that could be on the trade block, but with his speed and penalty killing ability, I feel it would be a mistake to move him at present. Even with all the missed breakaways, the guy still creates and causes havoc for opposing defenses. That is more than you can say for about 70% of Islanders forwards this year.
Plenty to work the phones about for Snow and his staff. Where the chips land on March 6 will decide just how optimistic the fanbase can get about September 2014 and the opening of yet another training camp.
It will also likely determine what Snow’s final grade as general manager of the New York Islanders rebuild is as well. For the patience level has worn thin to bring this club back to respectability.
And the clock is almost at zero.
Other News From Around The League:
From various sources as well as perusing articles around the internet, below is a summary of trade rumors and speculation leading into the 2013 trading deadline.
- Ryan Miller is demanding a contract of 7/60 to stay with Buffalo (Henrik Lundqvist money). It makes him not only impossible to sign, but very hard to move with those demands becoming public.
- Devils GM Lou Lamoriello is still waiting for Martin Brodeur to decide if he wants to retire a Devil or request a trade for one last shot at a Stanley Cup. Lamoriello has also put out word that he would move Jaromir Jagr.
- The Montreal Canadiens are looking at Dmitry Kulikov, the talented but enigmatic Panthers defenseman.
- Mike Cammalleri has given the Flames a list of 5 teams he would accept a trade to.
- The Phoenix Coyotes and Ottawa Senators are trying to acquire ex-Islander Matt Moulson.
- Columbus scouted the last two Rangers games, looking at Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi. I still believe there is no way Callahan gets moved.
- Chris Stewart of the Blues has been linked with the Rangers and Senators.
- Minnesota was said to be looking at Miller, but acquiring then signing him could be detrimental to them getting Vanek in the summer.
- The Blues seem content to ride out the struggles of Jaroslav Halak with Brian Elliot backing up for the duration of the regular season leading into the playoffs.