The last time the New York Islanders made a major move at the NHL Trade Deadline was the last time they were in a playoff position this late in the season. Today, it's almost a shock to remember the Ryan Smyth trade from the Edmonton Oilers is now five years old.
It was a strangely pivotal moment for both franchises, and in some ways it's one both are still reacting to. Neither has made the playoffs since -- the Islanders' one-and-out with Smyth that year being the exception -- and except for that and a couple of 20th-range finishes by the Oilers, both franchises have been regulars in the bottom five of the league.
Smyth's declining to re-sign in 2007 and the stopgap free agents that followed led Islanders GM Garth Snow to take a rebuilding path. The Oilers signed veterans for a couple of more seasons before bottoming out and themselves choosing a rebuild course. Smyth, ironically, cashed in yet has been traded twice despite securing a no-trade clause in the windfall deal he wouldn't take from the Islanders, the windfall deal that expires this summer.
Below, for memory lane's sake, is a great CBC feature on Smyth some weeks after the trade, when he was settling into life (however brief) as an Islander.
Ryan Smyth Talks about Being Traded from the Oilers
Highlights of the clip include:
- A younger Elliotte Friedman, who only seems to have gotten better as a reporter and storyteller
- Smyth strolling in for the first time at the lovely La Guardia
- Smyth being welcomed into the room by now-old faces like Trent Hunter (bought out last summer and waived by his two subsequent teams), Jason Blake (who also left via free agency, and has been traded once on the deal he signed that also expires this summer), and Mike Sillinger (who retired due to hip issues and took a management position with the Oilers)
Even in 2007, the Islanders would only end up 17th overall and famously squeaking into the playoffs -- Wade Dubielewicz to the rescue! -- being eliminated in a closer-than-it-looked five-game series with the superior Sabres. That familiar fate as a quickly dispatched middling eighth seed, no doubt, also helped lead the Islanders to rethink the route back to the top half of the league's table.
The strategy that has been followed since about a year after the Smyth trade is still hotly debated, and its very plea -- patience -- constantly tussles with its promise, which is that one day the call for patience will not only end but be rewarded.
That 2008 draft class looks like a nice haul for the Islanders, with Travis Hamonic, Matt Martin, Aaron Ness, Kevin Poulin and Matt Donovan among the returns. Ironically the main prize in the decision that made some of those picks possible -- the trades down to select Josh Bailey at #9 -- is still up in the air as Bailey's future profile as an NHL player is still to be defined.
The Smyth trade of course would look different in retrospect if the Islanders hadn't given up prospects that in the end they'd never really miss -- although ironically, had their been a true prospect prize in that trade, it would have made the argument for a rebuild all the stronger.
Today, the Islanders are once again in a bottom-five position. They are not in position to add a rental, but the "core" properties they've collected are starting to sign contracts that will keep them in the fold for a while. One of their better free agent acquisitions and one of their better bargain bin finds, P.A. Parenteau and Evgeni Nabokov are also looking to sign on rather than be shipped off for parts (at the right price, of course).
It depends on how they do this summer and how some of those young pieces continue to develop -- some, like Bailey (22) and Kyle Okposo (23), make you wonder -- but next year at this time they should be in position to add. Enough of these young pieces should be developed or else hard decisions made on them. Enough helpful reinforcements should be in the fold. Otherwise even the patient will have little room for the pleas.