Surfing sour fan reactions to at least half of the NHL’s 30 teams’ trade deadline moves (or non-moves), I am again familiar with the drill: some are ticked their team didn’t do enough, some are ticked their team risked too much, some are ticked their team did nothing.
Though others are in that last group, the New York Islanders are the only team that literally did nothing.
Which, I mean, that’s a choice. A few teams are clear favorites or near-contenders that were obliged to add what they could. Other teams are clear sellers who were obliged to salvage what they could of a lost season.
The Islanders are in the middle, not good enough to make foolish “go for it” short-term bets but not bad enough to tell their team and fans “we officially give up on the 2016-17 season.”
Some of that last group made minor, inexpensive moves, like the Los Angeles Kings adding Jarome Iginla (who has shunned the Isles in the past, and would only move to a contender) or the Florida Panthers adding Thomas Vanek (yeah, um, been there done that).
It’s Not About This Year
So personally, I’m not disappointed the Isles did nothing to improve this year’s roster. I am disappointed, however, that they did nothing to improve their chances of upgrading next year’s roster.
You see, the Islanders, as we noted last summer when they signed Casey Cizikas and Andrew Ladd for serious money, are very close to the cap. And the contracts that get them so close to the cap continue next year.
In other words, a team that is not good enough to be more than a playoff bubble team is currently obliged to return virtually the same roster next year.
This is our concern, Dude.
Granted, it’s clear that by not seeking rentals, general manager Garth Snow was thinking of next year. Matt Duchene and any other potential trade targets would clearly be moves for now and the future (i.e.: after July 1, when John Tavares can please-please-we-hope re-sign).
In a must-read at Newsday on Snow’s thoughts on the deadline, Joshua Ho-Sang, and Jaroslav Halak, Snow said:
“We weren’t in the rental market because we like our guys better, the ones we have coming back from injury and Josh Ho-Sang...”
The Islanders were after bigger fish, the likes of Avalanche center Matt Duchene or Lightning center Tyler Johnson. But the prices for such players were too rich for anyone’s liking and no players of consequence changed hands.
And hey, that’s fine. Even with Halak — whom I believe they should have on their roster now — I get why they wouldn’t trade him unless a team was taking his whole contract. There’s no point in parting with your best goalie insurance if your cap flexibility does not increase.
But there is the matter of the cap issues in 2017-18.
Flat Cap, Expansion Draft Saves the Day?
Next season’s salary cap is expected to remain flat. The Islanders will not be losing any meaningful contracts through unrestricted free agency. (No, Stephen Gionta’s league-minimum contract does not count.) Calvin de Haan and Adam Pelech are restricted free agents who will need new contracts, the former surely garnering a raise.
And no matter what Doug Weight or a future coach’s impact, this roster is not good enough to compete for the Stanley Cup.
So they will need flexibility to improve it, even if you project Ryan Pulock, Joshua Ho-Sang and Mathew Barzal on next year’s roster. (Keep in mind, a good player will be lost via the expansion draft.)
Which means they will need more cap room than they currently have. Maybe they swing a sweet deal with old colleague George McPhee to take one of their pricier contracts in the expansion draft. Maybe they do something else smart and productive in the summer.
But we saw at this trade deadline, for example, Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman launder Mark Streit from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to carve himself some cap space by getting rid of Valtteri Filppula’s $5 million cap hit for next season.
Granted, Yzerman is in a more overt sell-off mode — his team is two points behind the Isles today, FYI — but the Lightning are an example of a team that used the deadline to, if not improve this season, at least increase the odds for improvement next season.
The Islanders didn’t do that; maybe they were more focused on moonshots like Duchene. But much more than missing out on a rental, that’s the (non) move that leaves me wondering.
This team needs a plan to compete with its Metro superiors next season. We’re going to have to wait till summer to see if they have one.