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Islanders Odd Expansion Draft List Part of ‘Something Big’

Grabovski’s contract may be part of the operation, but a major forward acquisition is the apparent end-game

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As 30 teams try to kiss the ring of Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee (they have till midnight Monday night), while about a fifth of the NHL’s fanbases scratch their heads at how their teams handled their expansion draft protection list (none more than us Islanders fans, one safely assumes), things are starting to make at least a little more sense.

Scuttlebutt since the Islanders’ odd-on-its-face protection list was announced Sunday suggested one of those “we’ll give you this if you promise not to take that” deals. A few reports have chipped at the edges, but on Monday Newsday’s Arthur Staple offered the greatest amount of detail yet on a more-than-rumored deal:

A first-round pick, whatever player the Islanders want the Knights to take in the expansion draft, plus a “third piece.” Staple writes that the still-injured Mikhail Grabovski -- who cannot be claimed in the expansion draft, but whose contract can be dealt in a separate deal — is the third piece.

(Keep in mind, part of the expansion draft rules requires Vegas to come out of this expansion draft with an aggregate roster 60-100% of last season’s salary cap. Not a very high threshold to hit, but something to keep in mind when trying to build a young, draft- and prospect-rich roster while meeting cap requirements yet avoiding taking on every team’s cap anchors.)

This, mind you, followed Staple updating an earlier version of that story that had Grabovski wingman and still-healthy player Nikolay Kulemin headed to Vegas.

While Twitter (and okay, us too) react with varying degrees of histrionics to the incomplete hints and assumptions from the league’s unprotected list, it appears there is more to this than giving up a first-round pick to preserve last year’s non-playoff roster plus Adam Pelech: There is also the matter of retaining the assets that are in play to make a bigger trade for a top-six forward.

Via Chris Nichols at FanRag Sports, transcribing Darren Dreger on TSN 1050 radio:

“I don’t ever remember a time when there were so many quality, young defensemen potentially available,” reflected Dreger. “You’ve got Travis Hamonic with the New York Islanders. The Islanders – they’re going to do something big in the next week here. And by big, I mean they’re going to add an offensive piece – a top-six forward – whoever that is. And it might have to include Travis Hamonic and something else going back as part of that.

“I mean, if it’s Matt Duchene, as an example, coming back and Hamonic goes the other way – well, now Tyson Barrie is available. He’s a d-winger (defenseman-winger) – but that puck movement has got to help a lot of clubs, right?

That, too, has been in the rumor mill since at least the lead up to the 2017 trade deadline, with the Islanders frequently linked to attempts to acquire either Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene or Edmonton Oilers winger Jordan Eberle.

Now add to that basket Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk, who appears more certainly for sale ever since the Habs acquired Jonathan Drouin.

(And keep in mind, this is just focusing on one of the 30 teams whose assets are twisting in the expansion draft wind, with reporters trying to nail news down, and teams reacting to what they see in the news about other teams. The more this carries out, the more you think the NHL should have turned the expansion draft into a two-week reality TV show rather than an announcement sandwiched among the annual awards ceremony in the desert.)

Leaguewide, this is all amid the context of McPhee announcing that his team would be making its decisions on its roster Tuesday, and teams had a deadline of midnight Eastern at the end of Monday to finalize consideration deals with the expansion team.

What’s Next?

So expect even clearer news of the Islanders-Knights arrangement to leak by Tuesday night or Wednesday morning when Vegas will have finalized its roster decision.

Then, anticipate -- but we dare not suggest you hope for -- more movement through the draft.

Though Islanders fans have been through promises of a “big deal” before — even through 40 days of “big deal Neal” — if these reports are on target then multiple pieces who survive the expansion draft will nonetheless be on the move from the Isles if Garth Snow can consummate a trade for offense.

There’s also the underlying context of improving the team’s outlook as it prepares to make its first formal post-July 1 pitch to extend John Tavares’ contract. But that’s a topic for another 15,000 word thread.