Earlier today, as the live thread was blowing up with thoughts on which forward the Islanders should add with their 15th overall pick to their well regarded pipeline, Garth Snow made a trade. It wasn't a trade, however, that anyone came close to expecting. Welcome to draft day.
Last night, rumors surfaced that Minnesota was interested in trading 25 year old right winger Cal Clutterbuck, a guy mostly known for a Trevor Gillies-like moustache and Martin-like hit totals (he held the single season record with 356 in 08-09 until Matt Martin eclipsed that, and additionally holds the single game hit record against - guess who! - the Isles), some being of the not so clean variety. Isles management must have had the name written down on a wishlist, because it didn't take long for them to make a big move to acquire him, trading the enigmatic Nino Niederreiter who was clearly unsettled after not being on the NHL roster in this shortened season. It's no surprise that Nino was traded on draft day, but the return was expected to fill the most glaring need -- a number one goaltender to replace the aging and uninspiring Evgeni Nabokov, and those options were available, and one can assume those tires were thoroughly kicked. Instead, former fifth overall pick Niederreiter was shipped to Minnesota in exchange for Clutterbuck and the 70th overall pick in this year's draft.
Initial reaction was of the WHAT THE F*** variety. Trading a number 5 pick who had a nice season in the AHL after a dismal rookie year on the Island for a bottom-sixer? It's insanity, right? We're back to square one - WE SUCK, FIAR GARTH SNOW, JOKE FRANCHISE, JOKE OWNER, etc. It's been a tough five years since the rebuild started, and trading a top prospect is new territory, interestingly one Garth Snow has repeatedly stated would not be likely to occur in the slow and somewhat steady rebuild.
Take a deep breath for this. The old adage goes, the team that gets the best player in the trade wins. It's not easy to say, but as of right now, the Islanders won the trade. Clutterbuck is an NHLer, and Nino's future remains a big question mark. It's possible that Niederreiter's career point totals may end up higher than Clutterbuck's. But as of right now, the Islander roster is stronger than it was yesterday. The farm system, maybe a different story.
By adding Clutterbuck, the Islanders added at minimum, a third line guy who will annoy the crap out of any team the Isles play against. Isles fans will soon be happier that he's wearing our uniform than a Rangers one. Clutterbuck's best season statistically was in 2010-11, when he was second on the Minnesota Wild in goals with 19, and also notched 15 assists. Pretty darn good goal production for a bottom-sixer. His offensive skill seems to be higher than that of Martin, Cizikas, or McDonald, who all bring a little bit of that to the table, and hopefully a bit more next season.
Clutterbuck brings the grit and penalty killing ability than any team wants more of, and is also a decent possession player. His production dropped off this season, but take that with a grain of salt as the Wild's top-six now has plenty of guys that can be relied upon to handle offensive part of the game, and additionally taking into account that Clutterbuck's shooting percentage was a career-low 4.5%, which probably would have regressed positively in a full season. With Ullstrom, Aucoin, Reasoner, and Joensuu all likely not returning to the Orange and Blue, the bottom-six had some holes to be filled. Some of these roles will be filled by up-and-comers such as Brock Nelson and likely Anders Lee, but adding an experienced and physical winger could prove to be helpful to their adjustment to the NHL game, especially in a very physical Atlantic Division, or whatever the heck it's called next year after realignment.
There is also the thought of placing Clutterbuck on Tavares' wing, similar to Dupuis' role on the side of Sidney Crosby, which worked out well for Pittsburgh. Dupuis' numbers were much more impressive than what's expected for him, and Clutterbuck and Tavares were linemates at one point in Juniors. If Brad Boyes and PA Parenteau can look good on John Tavares' wing, I'm convinced anyone can. And someone that can be more defensively responsible and physical too? It's not so farfetched.
The rebuild is not ruined, and the future is still plenty bright, and the upcoming season can still be a successful one, barring that Snow can still handle the netminder situation. This might also have to be done via trade, maybe for a Ryan Miller or Jaroslav Halak. The options on July 1st will be limited now that Mike Smith and Niklas Backstrom signed contracts with their respective clubs. With this trade the Isles acquired a young, proven NHLer that has tools that can help this team win in the East, and rid them of what was becoming a distraction. We've had a surplus of distractions in the past decade.Unless Niederreiter beats us in the Stanley Cup finals, Islanders fans need not worry much of what type of player he becomes. The Islanders don't face the Minnesota Wild too often... although, it was enough time for Islanders fans and players alike to develop a hatred of Cal Clutterbuck. My guess is that hatred will fade after a few games against the Rangers, Flyers, and Penguins.