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Surprise, Surprise: Trying to make sense of Pelech’s unexpected protection (update)

Warning: I have no idea what I’m talking about.

NHL: Florida Panthers at New York Islanders
Uh, okay
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The reaction was almost universal: Who?

Islanders fans wanted to know why Garth Snow chose to use one of his expansion protection slots on Adam Pelech. Non-Islanders fans wanted to know, who the hell is Adam Pelech?

The inclusion of Pelech, a 22-year-old defenseman with a 47% 5v5 CF from last season and little offensive flash to speak of, left some of the Islanders’ biggest names on the table for plucking by the NHL’s newest expansion team. Islanders fans were afraid of losing any one of Calvin de Haan, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome or Thomas Hickey, but assumed at least one would be protected. Turns out, none of them were. Huh?

After a Fathers Day excursion of junk food and mini golf, my initial reaction might have been on the harsh side. The answer to “Huh?” seems to lay in a side deal Snow may have with Vegas GM and former agent and Islanders colleague George McPhee. Even before the protection lists went public on Sunday, Newsday’s Arthur Staple reported that a deal could already be in place to keep the Vegas Knights away from several Islanders.

That deal could take the form of a high draft pick — the Isles own the 15th and 46th picks in the first two rounds — a lower-level prospect or both to entice Vegas general manager George McPhee to keep away from the prime players that the Isles have left unprotected.

After the protection list was released - and his Twitter mentions were decimated into a Mad Max-esque wasteland of lawless violence - Staple continued that line of thinking by specifying those “prime players.”

Over at TSN, Frank Seravalli said the Islanders might have a deal in place with Vegas to stay away from Josh Bailey and Casey Cizikas. Seravalli then updated the article to speculate that protection extending to Strome, Nelson and de Haan as well as Bailey, but leaving Cizikas open. No offense to Seravalli, who’s usually pretty good, but that sounded kinda wrong from the get-go. Bailey is coming off of his best season as a pro after nine years (spending most of his ice time with John Tavares might have helped) and Cizikas is a quintessential bottom six forward (and one who’s already very well compensated for his efforts).

The updated version:

It is believed that Vegas already has consideration deals arranged with Anaheim (to lay off Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson), with Columbus (to lay off Joonas Korpisalo, Josh Anderson and Jack Johnson), with the New York Islanders (to lay off Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome and/or Calvin DeHaan) and Chicago (to take on Marcus Kruger).

Columbus is believed to be parting with the No. 24 overall pick in this week’s draft, the Islanders with a first-round pick, the Blackhawks with Trevor van Riemsdyk and a sizeable package from Anaheim - since the Ducks don’t have a first-round pick this season, but a bevy of young depth on defence from which to deal.

Seravalli also mentions the Islanders moving their first round pick - No. 15 overall - to Vegas in exchange for extra, long-lasting protection. His colleague Darren Dreger says the same, while Staple wondered if that pick or even a second rounder would be enough.

You Played Yourself

Any or all of the above scenarios could be on the table, as well as others we haven’t thought of or conditional deals that may never come to pass based on what happens with every other NHL team. We won’t know the full extent of the Great Pelech Gambit until the entire offseason shakes out.

Even in a less impactful draft, such as this is purported to be, giving up a first rounder is a steep price. It’s a chip Snow should use thoughtfully to maximize its value. Maybe this year, the best use of that pick is not for a longterm project but for a current veteran player. Or to keep one of his own.

Vegas isn’t the only team the Islanders have been dealing with. Snow has, by most accounts, been active in trying to land that magical, mythical “impact forward” his team’s fans have been craving. That first round pick could end up going anywhere at Friday’s Entry Draft with an established player - maybe Matt Duchene, maybe Jordan Eberle, maybe someone else - coming to Brooklyn.

Still, swinging a deal with McPhee and protecting Pelech might not have been mutually exclusive. There’s a chance (I guess) that Pelech could be involved in a trade once the freeze is lifted next Thursday. If the idea is to keep McPhee from de Haan, Strome and Nelson, protecting Pelech would steer him directly in Thomas Hickey’s direction. As a Hickey fan, that would suck, but I’ve kinda been steeling myself for that scenario for a few months now.

Seravalli’s updated article makes a little more sense, at least to my mind. To use a first round pick to protect Bailey and Cizikas as Seravalli first reported means this whole thing is a waste of my time and I give up trying to figure this team out. Maybe Seravalli got his info backwards and Snow wants McPhee to select either one of those players?

McPhee and Snow are allowed to make deals even through the roster freeze. McPhee has to submit his final list to the NHL by 10 am Wednesday.

As always with the Islanders, the road taken isn’t just off the beaten path. It’s through the thickest, darkest part of the world’s most dangerous rain forest, just because it’s there. And the expedition is exhausting.