For the second time in a week, the Islanders jolted fans with a trade of a pending unrestricted free agent a little sooner than expected. While James Wisniewski headed out for the conventional 2nd-round pick (#50) plus possibly a 5th, Dwayne Roloson was traded to Tampa Bay for something a little more tangible: Ty Wishart, a once-touted first-round pick who should be close to NHL-ready.
The deal changes how we sketch the Islanders' future blueline depth chart (Wishart, who reports to AHL Bridgeport, immediately becomes the Sound Tigers' 2nd-leading scorer), and it also accelerates the next important long-term evaluation process for this season: Testing Rick DiPietro's form and durability, and Nathan Lawson's ability to be an NHLer.
Lawson, meanwhile, was seen as a likely emergency call-up and ultimate replacement whenever Roloson was dealt. He got an emergency callup before the roster freeze -- a move that puzzled some, and had many speculating a trade was imminent. That callup was made possible by DiPietro hitting IR with minor knee swelling: Now, in retrospect, we either know just how minor that knee swelling was, or (this is optimistic) DiPietro's knee responded well enough and quickly enough to make the Isles think it will become a lesser and lesser problem as time goes on.
In any case, with a .888 save percentage DiPietro now has the second half of the season to show he can regain #1 durability (and #1 form, if you don't think he's improved since a few early-season routs), while Lawson at age 27 has the chance to show he can be full-time backup or 1B. Below him, young Kevin Poulin continues to excel and excite.
The Ty Wishart Files
In contrast to the Wiz deal, which elicited mixed reaction, I was surprised by the almost entirely positive initial reaction here to the Wishart deal. I suspect part of that is because Wishart is a tangible asset -- one very close to being realized -- as opposed to the unknown-plus-three-years that a draft pick represents.
What does Wishart represent for the Isles? Let's go to the Google...
As mentioned, his 18 points puts him behind only Rhett Rakhshani on his new team, though he compiled those points on a high-scoring Norfolk squad. Dylan Reese is with the Islanders on their current road trip (and Lawson now will join him), but it wouldn't be a stretch to see Wishart soon finding himself in that first call-up role.
For the long term, though -- and presumably the Isles wouldn't have dealt Roloson for someone they don't see in their long-term plans -- Wishart adds size (6'4", 222 lbs) the Islanders didn't have in their current blueline pipeline. While Travis Hamonic is here now, Calvin De Haan might be here next year or the year following, and Matt Donovan is still a few years away, Wishart at age 22 slips in as someone who might grab a spot in that timeline.
As they were for Wiz, the Islanders are Wishart's third NHL club. He arrived in Tampa Bay along with Matt Carle as part of the Dan Boyle deal. In 2006 the Sharks traded up to draft him 16th overall (which Michael Fornabaio points out, was a deal that relates to the pick the Isles got from Montreal for Wisniewski).
He was the second defenseman drafted in 2006. (Erik Johnson was first.) Scouts at the time called him "dependable as a Maytag" and some compared him to Eric Brewer, although at least one said Brewer was a better skater.
He's ripe. This past fall was Wishart's fifth pro camp. He's developed on others' watch, so the Isles get to evaluate him more closely under their own watch and likely take him out of the oven pretty soon. He's said to be close to NHL-ready, and he was blocked by several older D-men in Tampa Bay. That may have implications for other pending free agents Radek Martinek, Milan Jurcina, Bruno Gervais and Jack Hillen.
He's an RFA this summer. Speaking of free agents, Wishart is in the final year of his three-year entry level contract (ELC) that carries a $1.22 million cap hit at the NHL level but pays him $62,500 at the AHL level. His base NHL salary this year is $765,000, so he'll need to be offered at least that plus a nominal raise in a qualifying offer to retain his rights this coming summer.
He's played only 5 NHL games. The only one of the five -- all in February 2009 -- in which he received meaningful ice time, he was one of two Lightning players to avoid a negative Corsi. (That doesn't really mean anything, but it was fun to look up.)
About that Cap...Floor
OMG! Does this trade drop the Isles below the salary cap floor? No. Remember that cap hits are compiled cumulatively over the course of the season (so even though Wiz and Roloson are gone, their pro-rated salary from when they were Islanders counts towards the cap -- about $1.4 million for Wiz and $1.16 million for Rollie). So now according to CapGeek, their projected actual spending drops to about $40 million, but potential bonuses add another $5 million to that.
A New Approach by Snow?
Garth Snow just pulled the trigger on two deals by New Year's Day. Is this a new approach from the GM, after trade deadlines past have left a few Isles expiring assets unmoved? Was he determined to get something good (and for Snow, it seems "good" almost always starts with a 2nd-round pick) and so started the auction early? Or was it easier to do these earlier because of compensation offered, or because each of these deals has depth-chart-evaluation implications that need to be sorted over the rest of the year rather than over the final month and a half?
These questions intrigue because as mentioned, the Islanders have other pending free agents who could be dealt -- though none as attractive as Roloson or Wiz, unless Matt Moulson or arguably Radek Martinek are not in future plans.
Aside from that, I know some people tire of the future talk -- but this is another example of Snow's steady, long-term strategy to rebuild this franchise's depth: You sign guys like Roloson and Wiz (cheap trade) who have value but need new homes, and a year or two later you cash them and their desire for another contract in. They may not fit your long-term plan, but the two of you have temporary mutual short-term interests, and each benefits from the brief marriage.
Dwayne Roloson should do well in Tampa Bay; he doesn't need to do much to be an instant upgrade on that team's goaltending. (insert #danellisproblems here). Since arriving on Long Island, Roloson did nothing but provide stability and prove the Oilers wrong for thinking he didn't have two years left in him. As a bonus, his no-B.S. demeanor was refreshing in interviews. In just 1.5 seasons, he turned in a number of memorable, game-stealing performances. He'll be missed, as will his mask.