Tuesday, February 23, 2010

To Trade or Not To Trade?

As an oh-so-exciting Olympics lingers on, Islander GM Garth Snow has much to ponder about with respect to his team's last 20 games.

The biggest question he must answer for himself is: Does this team still have a shot at making the playoffs?

Certainly, every franchise within shooting distance must in some way show its fanbase that the team intends to win and believes it can. Mathematically, the Isles could run off a good 12 wins to finish this beast off and slip into the playoffs, granted certain other teams don't do the same thing at the same time.

Then again, if that happens, what chance would this team really have once in the playoffs? Would it even be a contest if our beloved Islanders were to enter the 7-game dance with a New Jersey, Pittburgh, Philadelphia, or Washington?

Moreover, what are the chances that this team doesn't win another 10 games this season and rolls into the offseason with a bottom third finish and nothing to show for having arguably 3 NHL starting goaltenders and at least one currently very valuable UFA (Andy Sutton) likely wandering off into UFAville?

Seem like a more likely scenario to you?

To me too.

Simply put, Garth Snow can and should be happy that this team spent the first 60 games being a good deal better than last season's edition of the Islanders and was even good in raising a few eyebrows along the way. While Snow's biggest UFA coups the past two summers, Streit and Roloson, have had a good deal to do with this competitiveness (especially Roloson), and Matt Moulson and to a degree Rob Schremp have been solid additions up front, this team has received the bulk of its contributions from U25 players Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen, Jack Hillen and - despite his 2nd half difficulties - John Tavares. Throw in Andrew MacDonald's surprising, if not downright miraculous, jump from 6th round pick to 25 minute-per-night NHL defenseman, and this team has moved forward primarily on the strength of its own draft picks and signings.

Getting back on track here, it should be clear to most that this year's Islanders are not winning the Stanley Cup. It should be clear to most, that teams with much greater chances at doing so are going to be knocking on Snow's door to inquire about several players. It should be clear to most that Snow is currently analyzing about how he can make this team better for next season - a season in which this club should be viewing playoff spots 7 and 8 as a clear-cut goal.

There may even be several GMs asking Snow about important veterans such as Streit and Hunter, two guys who have excellent deals and several years remaining on their contracts. I don't know how moving Streit could be of benefit to this team - but with GMs like Don Waddell out there, you just never know what type of knock-your-socks-off deals Snow could be offered. While I don't think we'll see Mark Streit be moved, it'd be quite surprising if Snow didn't play the part of the seller as we approach the deadline, just 10 days away.

Players who may not be here by March 5th:

Andy Sutton: We've already seen several 3rd rate veterans be sent packing in deals that have all included 2nd round picks. Enter the aforementioned Andy Sutton. Playing for a new contract, Sutton has had his best season in years. He's been solid in his own end and has created a highlight reel of huge, spectacular hits throughout this season. His confidence is there and he's shown a apt ability in moving the puck forward, sometimes exhibiting some mighty fine hands in the process. Although not used enough, his shot is as hard and deadly as anyone else's. Throw in that size he has and it's easy to see that Sutton is a commodity at peak value for a team still hoping to get more of an impact from its number 4/5/6 defensemen. If Wallin solidifies San Jose, then Sutton can surely more than help out a number of teams including Vancouver, Colorado, Philadelphia, Washington and maybe even a Detroit or Dallas. A return similar to what Carolina got for Matt Cullen should be a minimum in seeing Sutton be moved. And yes, that would help out this Islander franchise.

Dwayne Roloson/Martin Biron: Arguably our team's 09/10 MVP, Roloson has had some amazing showings for the Islanders this year. Several of our wins would arguably not have been possible without Roloson's fabulous performances. He is signed for another year and heading into next season with Roli and Dipietro manning the net would surely give the Isles a formiddable tandem, especially if Dipietro can regain his previous form at some point next season. Marty Biron is an excellent team player and spokesman. His terrible record this year includes a lot of losses where this team scored 2 or less goals for him. However, he has to be seen stamped as one of our on-ice disappointments this season. He's an affordable and solid 1B goalie. Unlike Roloson, he is an upcoming UFA.

Now, it seems we cannot yet count on Dipietro being able to finish off this season, even in a back-up capacity, but if there is any belief that he can, then it'd pure mismanagement to end this season with all three goaltenders on the Island. Now, Biron may not have the greatest of value, but there is likely a team out there that'd gladly send Snow a 4th rounder to pick up Biron for the stretch run and playoffs. Seeing Snow want to keep the Dipietro/Roloson tandem is completely reasonable and understandable.

On the other hand, Dwayne Roloson (who is under contract until the end of the 10/11 season) may be Snow's biggest trading piece. There are a number of expected playoff contenders whose current goaltending situation is anything but stable. In Dwayne, a team knows what it's getting. He's proven on several occasions that he's made of the steel that can carry even mediocre teams on successful playoff runs. Imagine what he could do with Washington's or Philadelphia's offence in front of him? Don't fret, because there are surely a few GMs out there pondering the same thing.

Doug Weight: I hope Doug Weight ends his career with us. I hope he remains with the Islanders and becomes a part of the franchise, whether in a coaching or administrative capacity, or heck, even as a commentator for the team. He's a model citizen and has surely played his role in the development of each of Tavares, Bailey and Nielsen. The demand is surely not that high for this often injured, one goal, 15 point man. His shoulder may not even allow him to finish off the season. Surely Snow would not move him just for the sake of doing so. As far as I know, young Tavares is still living at Weight's house. All this said, it is thoroughly conceivable that Weight himself has told Snow that he'd be more than happy to be sent to a contender for whatever in order to have one last shot at the cup. If this were to be the case, I'd have to think that Snow would surely oblige him.

Richard Park: Having arguably his worst season in some time, Park is the type of guy a number of teams could shore up their 3rd and 4th lines with. His apparent loss of a top gear and lousy +/- to date do not mean that he can't bring it for the stretch run and playoffs.

Jon Sim: Sim has earned every minute he's played this year. He's an extremely limited player, but showed himself to be the type of pest many teams crave come playoff time.

Trent Hunter: A warrior for sure, Trent has had a tough season. Despite a strong spurt coming off his early season injury, he's been very quiet for some time now. He's never been fleet of foot, but that's never been as glaring a weakness as in the past 25 games. In addition, he's not checking at the rate he had been prior to this season. He's got several years left on his contract, he's a big man and he serves his team well. He's grown up an Islander. As an individual piece, his value to this team is far greater than what he'd rake in. However, he may be what is needed to complete a bigger deal involving either Sutton, Weight, Biron or Roloson.

What I see happening:
Roloson and Sutton will be traded.

With a summer full of free agent possibilities on the goalie front, and a Biron who is healthy and himself could easily be resigned, I expect Snow to pit the bidders against each other to get this franchise the best it can for Roloson. He'll be a loss and his being traded tells this fanbase that "We're no longer playing for the playoffs unless what we've got just happens to surprise and be good enough to get us there!" However, some team is gonna give Snow something really nice for Roli the goalie and heck, it's not like Roloson is leading the Isles to a Stanley Cup victory this or next year. He surely is a pole of stability for this team, maybe even moreso in the locker room than we can know, but that may have to be sacrificed for the time being in order to benenfit even more greatly as soon as next fall.

As for Sutton, we have no verification whether or not he'll be seeking greener pastures this summer. It's his one last chance to sign for big money. In addition, as often as he says he likes it here on Long Island, Snow can always pursue him again after the season, as unlikely as his resigning here would be. Unfortunately, money is tied up in players such as Brendan Witt and Radek Martinek, and Snow needs to upgrade the blueline on whole anyways, so getting the max for Sutton now, while at the peak of his value, is the most logical choice to be made when all is said and done. The team would likely have to finish the year with Streit, Gervais, MacDonald, Meyer, Kohn, Witt and Hillen - a blueline lacking in physical fear-factor, no doubt.

If Doug Weight has given a move his OK, he could either be packaged with one of the aforementioned players or sent along in a Bill Guerin type deal. In his current form, he can still assist a team looking for more savvy in the line-up, especially on the PP. Seeing the types of names that have come and gone through the waiver wire, it's hard to believe Park or Sim would even garner late round picks, but then again, we know that for example, a team like San Jose is looking to shore up its very green 3rd and 4th lines with a defensively-minded veteran or two. No reason to think that Lombardi wouldn't be willing to part with a 5th rounder for a Richard Park.

What Snow will earn:
By March 5th, I suspect this team will have added the following
A) 1 highly rated prospect
B) 2 2nd round draft picks
D) 2 5th-7th round draft picks
C) Two mid-20ies bubble players who can fill in for the remainder of this season and audition for a bigger role in future seasons.

I also see us losing our 3rd or the one we have from Phoenix in the trading process.

One way or another, we'll know by March 5th at the latest.

Enjoy the rest of the Olympics!