The March 5 NHL trade deadline is just over a week away, so we'll be both victim and party to day after day of trade rumors and speculation from here on out. But for the New York Islanders, who is truly available?
Most likely and quite obviously, it's a very short but significant list. Most Islanders players are signed beyond this season, and barring a "hockey trade" or scapegoat shakeup casting aside underachievers -- like dealing Josh Bailey or Michael Grabner or Thomas Hickey, all of which would be a shock for different reasons -- the Isles will just cash in two of their pending unrestricted free agents.
The career-long Islander is at a crossroads: At long last, his years of playing under market value -- a four-year deal he signed at $550,000 average annual value (AAV) for the security of term and a guaranteed NHL job -- will pay off in a handsome unrestricted free agent contract.
Problem is, that free agency windfall probably won't come from the Islanders. MacDonald has been discussed and over-analyzed over the years, so the short story is this: He has power play points and big minutes due to playing a role above his ability, but his gaudy shot block numbers and underlying stats hint at a "shutdown" defensemen unfit for top competition. And the Islanders pipeline has enough prospects to prevent a long-term deal to a defenseman of very debatable worth.
Where does that leave MacDonald's value? How much of his value lies in knowing he's a cheap payroll addition?
The good news is, playoff contenders always want more defensemen, and MacDonald has the profile of a guy who makes playoff coaches sleep better at night. ("He'll battle. He'll block shots. He won't shy away.")
Ironically, if the Rangers part with Dan Girardi, they'll be doing just what the Islanders are doing: Parting with a defenseman whose reputation is better than his actual worth, and whose next contract is almost certain to be an overpayment relative to what value he can add.
That's not a knock on MacDonald or Girardi, really; it's just the way of things. Both have their role in the NHL, but that role is something less than what they and their agents are seeking.
Other defensemen supposedly on the market include Florida's Dmitry Kulikov (pending RFA with upside), Calgary's Shane O'Brien ($2 million left through next season), Edmonton's Nick Schultz, and perhaps Sergei Gonchar if Dallas sells the veteran.
Leafs offensive oriented blueliner Jake Gardiner is also somehow rarely in favor with Toronto, so he could go at any time. An A-Mac-for-Gardiner deal would be a dream way out of this situation for the Isles, so it's not happening.
Thomas Vanek, LW
Garth Snow's big, bold (and misguided?) attempt to upgrade the first line is ultimately backfiring. Vanek produced but didn't sign, and it's hard to argue he measurably improved the team -- certainly he didn't improve it where the need was greatest.
That said, it was a sort of advance free agency courting that failed (barring a July miracle). What Snow's able to salvage for the Austrian free agent will factor into the final judgment on the Matt Moulson trade.
The list of wingers potentially on the market is lengthy, ranging from P.A. Parenteau and Ales Hemsky to Sam Gagner (some think this center is better at wing), Calgary's Lee Stempniak and Mike Cammalleri, and of course Matt Moulson.
For every winger that is considered not quite as "elite" as Vanek, there is a contract that is much easier to digest.
Of the former Islander Parenteau, The Hockey News recently wrote:
It's clear he has fallen from favor with coach Patrick Roy after half a season and is likely to be on a new team by March 5. ... "For all the talk about him scoring, he's a decent playmaker," a Western Conference GM said. "His confidence is shot, but a new team could restore that."
Odd version of events, but we'll see.
Still, for all the theoretical competitors out there -- Ryan Callahan allegedly here, Dany Heatley, Chris Stewart and Scottie Upshall there, only Cammalleri is as consistently and recently prolific in the goal-scoring department. So that's something.
Ultimately, all money aside the Islanders have the best catch on this year's trade market in Vanek, but he's also at a cap hit, price point and position where buyers can look elsewhere for acceptable Plan B options. Any team that pays a premium for Vanek will have to be a team that really believes he can be the difference -- and can fit him under the tight cap. Is that team out there?
Nabokov is a popular locker room sage -- apparently an Andrew Dice Clay too -- and it would be a surprise to see the Islanders part with him for a cheap return at the deadline. His tutoring alone is arguably worth keeping him as the Islanders wind down the season with some younger players, since it's a stretch to see anyone parting with much for him.
That said, if Martin Brodeur is delusional enough to think another team would want him and his sub-Nabokov numbers, maybe another team sees a "veteran insurance-been there" purpose for Nabby. And if Nabby could be in a contending situation this late in his career, it's worth seeing the Islanders backups to let him go.
Like evaluating the practitioners of the position itself (what's your view of Semyon Varlamov, Craig Anderson or Jonathan Quick this week?), the goalie market is always a tough one to get a handle on.
Last summer Los Angeles apparently insisted on another backup goalie when parting with highly touted Jonathan Bernier, then shipped Ben Scrivens off this season anyway. Vancouver reportedly insisted on the chance to pick Bo Horvat for Cory Schneider -- rejecting reported (per Newsday) offers from the Isles of Nino Niederreiter or their pick a few slots later. Ben Bishop was dumped by two teams with goalie logjams in the space of a year, and now looks like he could be better than all the incumbents he left behind.
This year, everyone knows Brodeur would like to play somewhere (but who wants him?), Ryan Miller is on the market, James Reimer sounds unhappy with his status and undervalued by Toronto and Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott have at least public backing from their employers in St. Louis.
Meanwhile, Minnesota may want insurance given the injuries and health issues they've had, and Anaheim is swimming in quality goalies yet intent on keeping pending UFA Jonas Hiller for their Cup chase. Further, from time to time you hear Cam Ward rumors, and at the other end of the lifecycle, Malcolm Subban in Boston's system.
There could be major movement at this position out there, but unlike the other positions it's strictly a maybe.
In recent years the trade deadline hype has over-reached the reality, but there are a lot of interesting names in play and the Islanders absolutely look like movers. Chances are we'll be waiting until the final days for real action, but I'm told that's why this week is so fun.