The New York Islanders did not make a major move at the trade deadline. While that may disappoint fans, Garth Snow made the right move by not mortgaging the team’s future for a rental player.
The Islanders as they are presently constituted, are a good but not great hockey team. They are a club that should be in the fight for a playoff spot, but cannot be considered elite Stanley Cup contenders alongside teams like the Capitals, Blackhawks, Penguins and Sharks.
This season, the Isles got off to a slow start and played below their expectation level. In the tight and competitive Eastern Conference, that may cost them a playoff berth. Doug Weight has managed to get more out of the team since taking over as head coach midseason, but they are still a second-tier contender at best.
Yes, the Islanders are in the fight for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, but they are one of roughly seven teams fighting for that one final spot. If the Isles do qualify for the postseason, they would almost certainly face Washington in the first round and the winner of a series between Pittsburgh and either Columbus or the Rangers in the second round if they somehow manage to upset the Caps. Needless to say, their odds of making a deep playoff run are slim.
More importantly, the Islanders are not one player away from elite status right now. In 1980, the Isles were on the cusp of greatness and needed only a tweak here or there to go from elite contender to Stanley Cup winner. GM Bill Torrey added Butch Goring in a deal with the Los Angeles Kings and the Isles added Ken Morrow from the U.S. Olympic Team and a dynasty was born. This team is nowhere near as good and as dominant as the 1979-80 club. The Isles need more than one player to become elite now.
The salary cap is another issue for the Islanders. In recent years, the Isles were a team that had plenty of cap room. Now, if the team wants to add a true 30-plus goal scorer to compliment John Tavares, they need to clear out significant cap space. That made trades tougher to orchestrate and it would have almost certainly required Snow to deal one or more key players on the NHL roster. That may not help make the team better in the short run as the loss would at least partially offset whatever addition was made to the team.
Before the trade deadline, Newsday reported that Snow was not interested in adding a rental player but would be interested in a significant addition who would remain on the team beyond this season. The name most often discussed was Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs were interested in moving Duchene, but because he still under contract beyond July 1, they did not need to deal Duchene at the trade deadline unless their rather high demands were met. Apparently they weren’t as Duchene remained in Denver. The Avs will have another chance to make a deal for Duchene before the draft or any time over the summer.
Because of their present cap situation, the summer would probably be a better time for the Islanders to acquire a major piece of the puzzle also. It would allow the GM more time and flexibility to make multiple deals, clear out cap space and put together a team that can take the next step towards contention.
To take that next step, the Islanders certainly need to add a player who can play on a line with John Tavares and take some pressure off the captain. The high asking price and lack of salary cap room made it difficult to pull off a trade of this magnitude at the deadline. The Isles will fight for a playoff berth with the roster they have and maybe add a player like Joshua Ho-Sang for the stretch drive. Ho-Sang may add some additional offensive punch and create competition for playing time among forwards.
In the short run, many Islanders fans are frustrated. They saw other teams fighting for that last playoff spot like Toronto, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Florida make moves to try to grab that final playoff spot. But for the Islanders, the price wasn’t right. If the team is going to really take another step forward, they need to make the right deal that will truly improve the franchise and make them Stanley Cup contenders. It would have been easy for Snow to placate fans and make a deal at the deadline, but that would not have been the best thing for the Islanders franchise over the long haul.