Vanek Trade Leaves Islanders With Tough Decision As Draft Approaches

When the New York Islanders acquired Thomas Vanek from the Buffalo Sabres in late October, things were looking up. The Islanders were coming off of a playoff season last year.  They were near the top of the Metropolitan Division at the time of the trade, and it was believed that acquiring Vanek would only improve an already-playoff caliber team.

At the time, it didn’t matter that they had to give Buffalo a first round pick in 2014 or 2015, a second-round pick in 2015, and Matt Moulson.  “Who cares about the draft picks? The future is now,” was probably the thought going through the minds of many Islander fans. After five straight non-playoff seasons, the time had finally arrived for the Islanders to not only be playing meaningful hockey in April again; but to maybe make a deep run in the playoffs.  It seemed as if the Islanders had finally arrived as a regular force in the Eastern Conference.

Things soon went downhill for the Islanders. They slumped and fell out of playoff contention.  They received an even bigger dagger to the chest, when John Tavares was injured in the Sochi Olympics while playing for Canada, and the Islanders soon learned they’d be without their best player for the rest of the season.  After Vanek declined an extension with the Islanders, GM Garth Snow had no choice but to trade Vanek at the deadline to Montreal , getting back only a second-round pick and prospect Sebastian Collberg.

Snow’s inability to get back anything close to what he gave up for Vanek is still haunting the Islanders.  They still have to surrender a first-round pick to Buffalo either this year or next year, and next year’s second-round pick for a player that only ended up playing 44 games for the franchise.

After last night’s Draft Lottery, the Islanders will have the 5th overall pick in this year’s draft, which leaves us with the question: Should they give up that pick this year, and hope to get a lottery pick next year or do they keep the pick and take their chances next year? There’s a solid case to be made for both sides, so let’s examine both sides.

Should they keep this year’s draft pick?

Garth Snow GM

Garth Snow has a tough decision to make regarding this year’s first-round draft choice (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

If the Islanders decide to go the path of keeping their 2014 pick and giving Buffalo their first-rounder next year, there are a couple of things to consider. The Islanders would have the 5th overall pick in the draft, which means they’ll likely get a pretty good prospect at that position. Anytime you have a top-five pick in the draft, you’re in a very good position to build your team’s future.

It’s no guarantee that the Islanders will have a pick this high next year.  You have to remember: This team was just in the playoffs last season, and with Tavares likely back in time for next season, how far away from going back can they really be? A few tweaks here and there, and who knows what can happen.

People may look at the Islanders and think that being in the lottery again next season is a foregone conclusion. That isn’t necessarily true.  The Islanders know what’s available in this year’s draft, and they know where they’re picking. Sure, next season’s draft is expected to be much better and deeper, but who knows what they’ll be saying about it come this time next year?  There’s never any certainty in terms of the level of prospects in any draft, in any sport.  If the Islanders see some prospects that they really like at the No.5 position this year and decide to keep the pick, it’d be hard to argue with that decision.

Give up this year’s draft pick?

Connor McDavid (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The Islanders could get prized prospect Connor McDavid if they hold on to their 2015 first-round draft pick (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The Islanders could give Buffalo their 2014 first-rounder, in hopes of getting one of the big-time prospects that are expected to be available in 2015, such as Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

The 2015 draft is expected to be much better than this year’s, with McDavid and Eichel headlining it. It would be a big gamble for the Islanders to surrender this year’s pick in hopes of getting a great prospect next year, but if they’re able to get McDavid or Eichel (who are regarded as possible “franchise-changers”), wouldn’t it be worth it?  If they get one of those players, they could potentially have what Pittsburgh has: Two “star” players, like Pittsburgh having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Islanders could have John Tavares and one of the big 2015 prospects (if they pan out) as a nice core of two young, elite-type players to build around.

Even if the Islanders don’t get lucky with a lottery pick, with how highly-regarded the 2015 draft class is, they’ll have to weigh the question as to whether they can get someone in next year’s draft, no matter where they’re picking, that would be better than what they’d get at the No.5 pick this year.

Another option, if they don’t get a lottery pick, at least they’d have a first round pick next year that they could potentially use to trade up in the first round to maybe snag one of those big prospects.

It’s going to be a tough decision for Garth Snow, either way. On one hand, you have the 5th pick this year, and on the other hand, you can give that up and potentially have a No.1 or No.2 pick next year if the Islanders have a bad year.

The Islanders have until June 1st to notify the Sabres of their decision.

 

Mike Gurnis

Mike Gurnis

Hey everyone! My name's Mike Gurnis. I'm a 2012 graduate of St. John's University in Queens, NY. I have a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. I'm from Vernon, New Jersey. I've been following hockey since I was eight years old, and I joined The Hockey Writers in April of 2014 to cover the New York Islanders. Before that, I covered college sports at my college's newspaper, The Torch from 2009-2012.
Mike Gurnis
The Islanders are...legit. Almost a team of destiny type of feel to them this year. The Devils? Not so much.. - 4 hours ago
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4 Comments

  1. If the Islanders don’t land a top 2 pick in 2015 with a lottery ball there is NO CHANCE they, or any other team, can trade up to the top two spots likely used for Eichel and McDavid. Zero chance. The Penguins wouldn’t have accepted anything for the Crosby pick here. Those two prospects are considered possible generational players. Let me repeat, unless they legitimately land one of the last two balls they have a less than zero percent chance at Eichel and McDavid.

  2. Mathieu Gagnon says:

    I think John Tavares needs to make this decision for Garth Snow. With everything that happened the last 3 years, i’m surprised he never asked to be traded. They have done some of the worst decisions in hockey for quite some time here, and to be honest NOT everything should be Snow’s fault, I’m sure the Mr. Wang was the one that wanted Vanek when he figured out he was going to be available. Mr Wang was the guy who gave money to Rick Dipietro for being a nice guy. (worst contract in history).

    After all that negativity, here’s some positives for this team. I like how this organization is setting themselves up for the future, they have some of the best prospects in the game (Strome, Reinhart, Pollock, Pokka, Pelech ect.) I also like how they learned from some of their mistakes with Nino, now they seem to like developing their prospects instead of rushing them in the lineup (See Rienhart sent back, Strome to AHL both could have made the team out of training camp, but instead they gave them extra time to develop their games).

    In my opinion they need to find a goalie and scoring.

  3. I am an Islanders fan and have been one since they began back in the 1970s. I was opposed to the Vanek trade back when it was made. I thought that the perceived difference in talent between Moulson and Vanek was too slight to justify the trade. Moulson has been John Tavares linemate and best friend for years and moving him hurt chemistry more than could be imagined.
    The Islanders should give Buffalo the 5th overall pick this season and move on. The Isles will have an extra second round pick this year as Montreal made the playoffs and this pick was secured along with Colberg.
    The Islanders have a strong core. Do not underestimate Brock Nelson, who is a fantastic two way center who can also play wing. On Tavares left wing we will have Anders Lee who has scored well and played fantastic hockey since his call up.
    The main problem with the Islanders recently has been defense. The team addressed this with some addition by subtraction in moving out Andrew MacDonald who wanted way too much money and was sent to Philadelphia. The Isles improved markedly on D once AMac was moved and they brought up some very sound prospects. If the Islanders recent number one draft picks Rienhardt and Pulock can make the team on D next season, this team could easily make the playoffs.
    It is easy to write off the Islanders due to the collapse they had this year but the defense can be rectified. If they reduce goals against they will win MANY more games. They ended up only 3 games under .500 even as they were without Tavares, Okposo, Grabner and Vanek late in the year. They won over 60% of their games down the stretch even as they were OUT of contention.
    The Isles will be back. If I were Garth Snow, I would let Buffalo have THIS YEARS pick and move on. The faster we put last year and that trade into past… the better.

    • Hey Kyle- Thanks for reading and thank you for the comment.

      I’ll say this much about the Vanek trade: I’m not an Islanders fan, but I was not a fan of them acquiring Vanek right from the beginning, for the same reasons you mentioned. Moulson and Vanek, in terms of production, weren’t that much different. When I made this point to a few of my Islander fan friends, all I heard was that “Moulson’s production was because he was playing with Tavares, and there’s no way he’d put up those numbers playing anywhere else.” Now, after the trade, look at the stats: Moulson put up 11 Goals, 18 assists for a total of 29 points with the SABRES in 44 games, the worst team in hockey. Not too shabby. He put up 51 points total this season, and thats including 44 games with Buffalo. His goal total may have gone down a bit (23 goals this season) after three straight (not counting the short season last year) seasons of 30 or more goals, but still he’s a very productive player even without Tavares with him. To me, the trade just didn’t make sense because you had Moulson, who had chemistry with JT, who clearly liked playing here, and you trade for Vanek. Now, Vanek clearly is a very talented player, but it was a bit of a gamble considering you don’t know what type of chemistry he’d have with JT, and you weren’t sure if he’d even like playing here. Obviously he didn’t, seeing as he decided not to sign an extension, so clearly a gamble that didn’t work out.

      I definitely agree that the Islanders aren’t far away from being a playoff team. To be honest, I’d keep the 5th pick this year if it were me, but again, I’m not an NHL GM, so what do I know? All I know is you have the 5th pick this year, you don’t know if you’ll have a high pick next year considering the team may be considerably better next year, so take your 5th pick now.

      It’s really a tough decision either way, and you won’t know what the right answer was until about five or so years down the line.

      As for the Defense and Goaltending…I’ll have an article up soon (in the next week or so) first about what the Isles should do about their goaltending next year (Nabokov is a UFA), and at some point I’ll have a look at their Defense as well, so stay tuned!

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