The New York Islanders made two decisions on Thursday with their typical brand of questionable logic and lack of alternatives.
The first was to retain their pick – No. 5 overall – in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft this June. They had the option of flipping that pick to the Buffalo Sabres to complete the ill-conceived Thomas Vanek trade or keeping it and giving Buffalo its 2015 first-round pick in the Connor McDavid Draft.
This comes down to known vs. unknown. The Islanders know where they stand in this draft. They obviously believe they’re going to be a better hockey team next year and that Buffalo’s pick isn’t going to be heavily weighted in the lottery, or in the lottery at all. That’s the message they want to convey to fans that might otherwise feel that retaining the pick is a signal that next season’s being written off.
But these fans aren’t stupid. First, they know the Vanek trade was a mistake, and giving up the No. 5 pick in a decent draft would just be the next dingleberry to fall.
Second, they know that it’s the Islanders, where bad fortune has its own locker in the dressing room. McDavid is an once-in-a-lifetime talent. So might be Jack Eichel, the brilliant American center. To voluntarily give up any chance of drafting them seems like the kind of decision that comes back to haunt a team.
(Ask Lou Lamoriello how Stefan Matteau is doing when he forfeits his lottery pick in Philly next month …)
Part of the reason the Islanders figure they’ll be better is having a goalie worth a damn next season, and the three following years: Jaroslav Halak, the soon-to-be UFA acquired from the Washington Capitals, who signed a 4-year, $18-million deal that averages out to $4.5 million per season against the cap.
Our first reaction to Halak’s signing:
How much will they spend on the other goalie in the rotation?
At this point in his career, Halak has proven to be a goalie that needs to (a) be pushed and (b) thrives in a goalie tandem, like he was with Brian Elliott in St. Louis. He’s started over 50 games once in his career, and it yielded his worst numbers with the Blues: a .910 save percentage, and .916 at even strength.
To the Islanders are spending $4.5 million (decent money) for four years (too long) on a goalie that needs another body to share the load with him.
The good news for the Islanders is that the free agent pool is populated with No. 2s, and that in Halak they get one of maybe three guys (Ryan Miller and Jonas Hiller being the others) that could legitimately carry the majority of the starts for a team.
Which is to say the options were limited, as they often are for the Islanders.
In both decisions, the Islanders’ hand was forced: Showing confidence in the future by giving up a chance at a winning lottery ticket; and signing one of the few quality goalies on the market that were also willing to be Islanders.
Hopefully for those fans whose confidence they’re asking for, they’re the right calls.