Let me be clear right up front: I don’t think the Islanders will make a significant move by next week’s trade deadline.
Last season, with a better team and a playoff berth more likely, GM Garth Snow kept things tight, only acquiring winger Shane Prince from Ottawa for a third round pick with the clock running out. Prince is an okay enough player, but he’s (still) not anyone’s idea of a game-changing move.
As of Monday, February 20th, the Islanders sit a point out of the last playoff spot with about a dozen Eastern Conferences teams still in the mix. A single win causes their playoff chances to rise and sink from single digits to about 35 percent. They have a nine-game road trip coming up and wins away from Barclays Center have been few and far between all season. In other words, there’s a lot up in the air right now.
So they’re unlikely to GO FOR IT this season and they don’t have any immediately salable assets to wave a meaningful white flag with. Unrestricted free agent Dennis Seidenberg is technically one, but the return would be some kind of goofy low-round conditional pick at best. And if a team had the desire and cap space to rescue Jaroslav Halak from the AHL, they probably would have done so already.
Still, I could be wrong, and a recent post by Arthur Staple of Newsday on the deadline had a bit about the Islanders possibly being in one of this year’s biggest available fish - Colorado’s Matt Duchene.
The Islanders have been on Duchene’s trail since November, hoping that Avs GM Joe Sakic was ready to break up his underachieving core. Duchene would fill plenty of needs for the Isles and has two more seasons at a $6-million cap hit left. But Sakic is asking for big pieces in return: a top-flight defenseman, a good young prospect and a No. 1 pick at minimum. Snow might not want to gamble on that sort of package or be outbid, but Duchene is the player the Isles covet most.
Staple had Duchene listed under possible “Long Term” additions, which makes sense considering his age and contract. Staple doesn’t feel the Islanders are particularly interested in UFA rentals like Patrick Sharp, Radim Vrbata or Martin Hanzal, nor return engagements by P.A. Parenteau (ha!) or Thomas Vanek (HAHAHAHAHA!).
Duchene, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2009 NHL draft (two places after John Tavares), has 16 goals and 20 assists this season. 10 of those goals and 13 of those assists have been at 5-on-5. His 5-on-5 corsi for relative is about 49 percent, which would put him seventh on the Islanders, just slightly ahead of Casey Cizikas. (all numbers courtesy of datarink.com)
The problem, as always, is what would the Islanders have to give up to get him. Forget the kind of flotsam for a superstar trade proposal that the internet is jam packed with. If the Islanders, as reported, have been trying to get Duchene for months, then the high asking price isn’t a surprise. And as Sean “Down Goes Brown” McIndoe notes in his Weekend Wrap column, Sakic shouldn’t budge an inch on Duchene (or Gabiel Landeskog) if he doesn’t want to.
There's plenty to criticize about Sakic's record as GM, and we've done some of that here and elsewhere. But setting a high price for two of his best young players doesn't fall into that category. This isn't the Coyotes asking for the moon for two months of Martin Hanzal. This is Joe Sakic doing his job.
Let's be clear: some of this is just basic negotiations. You're interested in a player, the asking price is more than you'd prefer to pay, so you get the word out and hope the other side blinks. Maybe Sakic does. If the Sens or Bruins or anybody else can get him to cave under the pressure and lower his price, then they'll have played the game and won. With plenty of time before the deadline, there's no harm in at least trying.
As much as Duchene could help by playing either alongside or behind Tavares, it might be a case of right player, wrong time for Snow. The Islanders aren’t a Stanley Cup contender this season (shit, they weren’t even a playoff contender until a few weeks ago) and moving multiple assets for an expensive piece who could walk away in two seasons doesn’t seem all that smart.
Would, say, Travis Hamonic, Mathew Barzal and possibly a pick in the Top 15 of this season’s draft make sense for Duchene? What about Nick Leddy, Ryan Pulock and a first? My answer would be no in either case. And that’s assuming Sakic is even willing to take Snow’s offer. He gets a say in this, too.
Blockbuster deals involving multiple players haven’t been part of Snow’s usually low key MO since the Ryan Smyth trade, and he’s become much more conservative in the last couple of years since the Spectacular Saturday trades for Leddy and Johnny Boychuk. Even if he has been trying since November, I can’t see Snow pulling this one off, especially considering all the teams vying to get their hands on Duchene.
That said, Matt Duchenes don’t grow on trees, and if Sakic is dead set on getting something for him and suitors start looking elsewhere, maybe Snow can get him to take an offer that doesn’t dismantle too much of the Islanders’ future.
Which is why I’ll reiterate my opening point. Personally, I’ll keep my expectations set to Shane Prince level.