Looking Forward: The Trade Deadline

The New York Islanders are having themselves a season to remember. Although we are just past the midway point of the season, the Islanders have a 3 point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Metropolitan Division and sit just 1 point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning with 2 games at hand for first place in the Eastern Conference. All of this coming in the final year at the Madhouse on the Meadowbrook and this has all the makings of something we as fans will remember for a very long time. 

I emphasize taking all of the success and resulting happiness in stride. There are still 36 games left to play and a lot can happen in that amount of time, both good and bad. That's just being a realist. I, along with most of you, have seen how a season can come unraveled so I'm hesitant to get ahead of myself. But, the success this season has the Isles on a path to potential territories that are foreign to the vast majority of us. Not only are the playoffs a realistic expectation, but potentially having home ice for at least a portion of it is a very real possibility as well. 

Another interesting date to look forward to is the March 2nd trade deadline. Ususally, the Islanders are on the outside looking in on the playoff picture and are either looking to unload salary or simply stand put. Last season as we all recall, the Islanders had their name out there as the known sellers of impending UFA's Andrew MacDonald and Thomas Vanek. MacDonald had gotten to a point where he was hurting the team more than helping and Vanek turned his cheek to a very lucrative offer from Isles' brass to pursue the free agent market. With all of this known, the Isles ended up getting the Philadelphia Flyers to take MacDonald and found a last minute trade partner in the Montreal Canadiens for the services of Vanek. All the Isles managed to get in return was Sebastian Collberg, Matt Mangene a 2nd round pick, 3rd round pick and a conditional 5th round pick. Understandably, the fan base lost their collective minds at the lack of return given the talent they parted ways with. 

This year brings some questions though. Should the Isles continue the same level of play or even close to it, their high standing could result in a lack of movement simply because there's no reason to fix what isn't broken. With Mikhail Grabovski and Lubomir Visnovsky both injured, the team still continues to win. At some point when they are both healthy again, there will presumeably be someone waived and someone demoted. Who that will be when the time comes is anyone's guess, but there are a lot of guys playing well which is a great thing for management to wrestle with. 

Even in the event of a late season injury or slump, the Isles have the likes of Griffin Reinhart, Ryan Pulock, Kevin Czuczman, Harry Zolnierczyk and Colin McDonald as potential call up candidates. All are capable of helping out to varying degrees and are players that Isles management has a level of comfortability with.

Setting aside the lockout shortened season a few years ago, the last time the Isles made the playoffs was in 2007 when they were the 8th seed taking on the President's Trophy winners, the Buffalo Sabres. The Islanders only ended up qualifying for the playoffs on the last day of the season with a shootout win over the New Jersey Devils. The reason for that could arguably be the slew of trades the Isles made at the deadline in what would be one of their more active trade deadlines in recent memory. The Isles swung deals to acquire defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron and forwards Richard Zednik and Ryan Smyth. The addition of the 3 to a lineup already surging behind the likes of Jason Blake, Miro Satan and Viktor Kozlov was just what they needed to get back to the post season.

As I said, things were different in '06-'07. The Isles were fighting to the very end for a playoff birth and made the appropriate acquisitions at the deadline to get them there. The deal for Smyth was a risk that would ultimately come back to bite the Isles given his impending UFA status and known desire to play on the west coast. However, it was a risk the Isles were willing to take. This year, if they stay the course, there won't be any fighting to get in but simply fighting for the highest seed possible. That scenario will dictate an entirely different mentality as the trade deadline finally approaches.

It's still early to formulate any guesses as to what the Isles will do because anything can happen from now to March 2nd. A losing streak, a slew of injuries or other variables could take place that could turn them into definitive buyers or sellers, but as it stands now this team has chemistry. There is chemistry that should not be tampered with and depth to support it. This is a special team, and if I were Garth Snow, I'd be comfortable taking this roster into the playoffs.

Bryan Curran
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