The NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. EDT Wednesday, April 3, and the New York Islanders are seen as unlikely to be very active. (They've been busy signing their own and importing from their own prospect pipeline.) But we are taking a look at why they are expected to stand pat and where they sit as an organization in the three positional areas.
We looked at the forwards Sunday. Today we check in on the defensemen.
During Garth Snow's tenure as GM, populating the blueline has arguably been as confounding as finding healthy NHL-caliber goaltenders. They've entered seasons with too much trust in Bruno Gervais and too little recognition of Brendan Witt's decline. They've entered seasons with too much faith in Mark Eaton, Milan Jurcina and Mike Mottau (in part, products of losing Mark Streit for a year) while longshot prospects were allowed to seek work in Europe.
For 2012-13, they looked to enter with belief in higher-rated prospects like Matt Donovan and Calvin de Haan. But the lockout happened, another devastating de Haan injury happened, and instead the Islanders began an abbreviated 2013 season with Joe Finley, Brian Strait and Thomas Hickey falling into their laps via Santa Waiver's gift sack.
Those waiver claims were largely a pleasant surprise. Combine them with the infamous seven-defensemen draft of 2012, and it's clear the Islanders defense is in a long-term transition. But before that transition hits its next phase, the Isles have sought to lock up two older, established pieces on the blueline.
Lubomir Visnovsky -- Lubo is no longer for sale, if he ever was. The prodigal Slovakian, who took the Isles and their fans on a seven-month journey to secure his services, has re-upped for two more years. He'd have been in demand, but now poachers will have to look elsewhere.
Mark Streit -- Ironically, Lubo's re-signing makes re-signing the captain less important. That doesn't mean the Isles aren't trying (Newsday's Arthur Staple said talks were on-going), but Visnovsky has frankly been the more valuable defenseman this season.
The question is how long and how much can they commit to a player Streit's age, particularly after paying free-market money to Visnovsky. I'm not sure what price or extra years loyalty and time served gets you vs. a player who didn't even report on time, but the Isles can also argue that they gave Streit quite an opportunity and financial commitment the first time around.
If talks break down irrevocably, the Isles could shop him. But it would take a significant offer for them to entertain the thought of letting Streit go in the middle of their playoff push.
Radek Martinek -- Martinek is listed here purely because he is a pending unrestricted free agent again. But the Isles didn't dump him at the deadline last time around, they're unlikely to do it this time, and I'm pressed to answer who would come calling for him anyway. He's useful as a 6/7 defenseman for the team.
Thomas Hickey -- Finally given his NHL debut this year, Hickey's performance has built up enough value where he should be elevated from waiver candidate to a player you'd actually trade for. That said, if the Islanders don't hold on to the pending restricted free agent, they're crazy. His record is promising but not nearly long nor impressive enough for him to be a problem to re-sign as an RFA this summer. Thus, he's affordable, reliable talent.
Joe Finley -- Finley is the least valuable of the Islanders' preseason waiver binge, and if the Islanders needed another roster spot then he would be a good candidate to waive or move. But demand is surely low for the big, lumbering blueliner, and rosters will expand after the deadline anyway. And that's even more moot now: Today the Isles placed Finley on IR as they made room for Anders Lee's signing.
The Prospects -- If the Islanders wanted to make a "hockey trade" to help their playoff push, they could deal from surplus by packaging some of their defensemen prospects. Matt Donovan hasn't played in the NHL this year but is seen as viable; Aaron Ness too. Meanwhile new blood is headed to Bridgeport any minute in the form of Andrei Pedan.
This isn't to say any of these should be on the trading block, but organizational cuts and decisions will need to be made at some point over the next two seasons. That point isn't now ... but it's getting close.
Well this is an interesting question. Should the Isles be looking to add to the blueline at the trade deadline? Some fans want the Isles to beef up somehow, but a check of the numbers shows the defense has kept shots down (29.1 per game) and hasn't given up a disproportional number of scoring chances this year. Instead, the blame for high goals against lies between the pipes, the 5-on-5 goal disparity falling on the team overall.
For argument's sake, meaningful upgrades like Jay Bouwmeester are too expensive and overpriced for the Isles' budget, ones like Robyn Regehr are frankly overhyped, and any short-term rentals simply don't make sense. Also, something fans often forget: Many players like the two mentioned above have no-move clauses, which means they have Iginla veto over where they go, if they even want to go.
Amusingly, that report out of Chicago over the weekend that had the Blackhawks targeting Frans Nielsen (who doesn't?) also claimed the Islanders "coveted" Dylan Olsen, a big and physical left-shooting defenseman in the Hawks system who didn't show a whole lot in 28 games with the Hawks last season. It's believable that the Isles continue to seek size for their blueline, but "coveting" the 22-year-old Olsen is a stretch.
Ultimately, the Islanders blueline is already crowded and settled for 2013, as it has been all season long. Strait, who broke his ankle earlier this season, is the only one on IR. Streit, who is likely to be re-signed, is the only "rental" candidate who could fetch real value in a trade. On any given night the Isles are already scratching two healthy defensemen.
As a result, although the trade deadline is the time of rumor-mongering and sketching grand trade dreams, you're right not to expect any movement on the Isles blueline.