Islanders Keep the Pick: Now What?

Recently several news outlets reported that Islanders’ general manager Garth Snow would retain the team’s first round pick in the upcoming June draft, currently slotted fifth overall (also known as the “New York Islander Honorary Slot”). In case you hibernated from November to March (or have done your best to suppress the disappointment of another Islander season), the Islanders are required to send Buffalo a first round pick either this year or next as a result of its Thomas Vanek acquisition. (Photo credit: IslesPunkFan/flickr). 

It should come as no surprise that Snow has decided to hang onto this year’s pick. Despite the chatter that the 2015 draft is stronger than this year’s, the Islanders are rolling the dice and betting on themselves finishing better than 26th in the league next year and not having the indignation of being forced to move a top 5 pick to Buffalo. Even if you are of the mindset that they will be worse next year, management would have created a public relations nightmare by essentially declaring: “we have no faith the team will be better next year…but come on down anyway! Family fun packs are available and make a great gift” if they ultimately decided to give Buffalo their pick in this draft.

Retaining this year’s pick answered the easy question. The tough question is what to do with it. And no, the answer isn’t to select the best player available…the answer is to trade the pick for help now (quick note- if you’re looking for a draft preview or some in-depth analysis of some 18 year old winger from Moose Jaw, you’re looking in the wrong spot. Pretending to have some expert knowledge based on a few Youtube clips and a magazine article is not on my list of favorite things to do. Back on topic now…)

Why trade the pick? Simple- this team needs build some momentum before heading to Brooklyn next season and the best way to do that is to win hockey games…lots of hockey games. They will have a chance to make a strong first impression with Brooklyn-ites if the team moving into their backyard has actually seen a playoff series victory in the last 20 years. It will give the team a chance to carve out its own niche in an otherwise Ranger-led city and maybe pick up some of the less die-hard Ranger fans who would prefer to cheer for a team in their own borough and whose black souls may actually be worth redeeming.

But it needs to happen quickly. “You only have one chance to make a first impression.” Go into a new building in a new area with the usual results? Say goodbye to any chance of grabbing the "black-horned glasses wearing" crowd and pray that the fans from Suffolk don’t mind a two hour commute on public transportation to see their favorite team play if you have dreams of ever seeing a packed house.

If we assume that the Islanders will continue to be the equivalent of a toxic waste dump to free agents this summer, the only way the Islanders will have to acquire an impact player is via a trade. Snow actually saw this too when he made the trade for Vanek in the first place. Sure, the reason why the free agents consider the Islanders a last-available option is because he and ownership have run the team into the ground. But hey, at least he noticed it this year by making a trade!

The Islanders have several key assets within the organization that would at least pique the interest of potential trade partners- Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Griffin Reinhardt, Ryan Pulock- all jump to mind. But if the team doesn’t want to move any of those four (and with good reason), then this year’s first round pick should be the next most valuable asset to move to seek help now. Whomever they draft in that slot would not be available to help the team this year if recent history is any evidence on how the team plans to develop first round draft picks. Plus the team has accumulated multiple second round picks this year so there will be plenty of opportunity for the team to grab some promising youth later.

It’s difficult to determine who will be available via trade over the summer, but it’s safe to look to teams who are in a clear rebuild (Buffalo, Florida), coming off disappointing campaigns (Vancouver, Washington, Toronto, Ottawa), or can’t get over the hump in the playoffs and may look to shake things up (St. Louis, possibly San Jose). There is talent on those rosters and it may only take one phone call from Garth Snow to use his best trade chip and bring in an impact player now.

This isn’t a call to throw away all of the fruits of the “rebuild” the last 7 years for one shot at fleeting success. This is a call to speed up the process and development of the team’s youth and bring in an impact veteran or two that can energize the fan base and help it get back a winning feeling. It’s the chance to give the Coliseum one final memorable season and plant the seeds for many more memorable ones in Brooklyn.

Follow me on Twitter @mikepac23 and check out @TCLIsles for Islander news and analysis.