In Losing Season, Islanders Should Start Protecting the Future
Earlier this season, the Islanders felt for Thomas Vanek, sending Matt Moulson, a 2014 conditional 1st and a 2nd Round pick. The trade's met different responses from all corners of Islanders fandom. This is too be expected after Vanek missed time with an injury and only played 5 games within the first month and a half of the trade. In the meantime, the Islanders went into a tailspin following a myriad of injuries to key members of the Defense and Evgeni Nabokov. This effectively put the playoffs realistically out of reach. While the Metropolitan Division isn't what you'd call, amazing, a 9 point deficit isn't impossible, but it's a tough climb and the Islanders are another November swoon from a top lottery pick. As it stands, the Islanders are in line for a top 5 pick.
The condition on the 2014 1st that went to Buffalo was that the Islanders can keep the pick if they have a top 10 pick this year. In my opinion, this seemed genius at the time of the trade as the Islanders were looking to pick amongst playoff teams for the second consecutive year. It's now time to reconsider that and offer Pat LaFontaine the pick regardless of draft position in this year's draft. If this means that the Sabres get to pick Sam Reinhart and Aaron Ekblad back to back at 1 and 2, then so be it. Why do I say punt on this years draft and attempt to satisfy the Sabres this year; one name: Connor McDavid. The Islanders cannot risk giving Buffalo a massive number of lottery balls for next year to get a chance at Connor McDavid if they have another season like this one. The Islanders made plans with the Vanek trade in regards to the draft, it's safe to say those plans have changed.
Am I saying that the Islanders should do everything they can to ensure they get McDavid; not necessarily, McDavid would be a huge piece to add into the Isles talent pool, and he could provide the Islanders a 1-2 punch down the middle akin to the Penguins tandem of Crosby/Malkin (it would likely be the closest any team in the East would get to that pair), and would provide the Islanders additional roster flexibility to move guys like Strome and Nelson around to mix and match them to different lines as needed. It would be a huge boon if the Islanders were to get McDavid, even if it meant another season of pain in Uniondale. However, this isn't about the Isles getting McDavid, it's more about preventing another Eastern Conference team from stockpiling a ton of lottery balls, even on the off chance that the Isles end up a lottery team.
The Islanders are well stocked with talent and are garnering enough "character building" through these swoons that when they start winning in spades they'll be able to handle the losing streaks of the future. That is they are learning through tribulation. What makes it painful is that the team has the talent to overcome these struggles, but they haven't been able to dig deep before the return of Evgeni Nabokov. The team needs additional veteran presence going forward in the event a number of guys go down at the same time. Also, if additional veterans aren't supplementing the roster, the young veterans have to assert themselves more in the room, they may still be young, and are about to be infused with more youth, but Tavares, Okposo, Bailey, Hamonic and others aren't rookies anymore; those guys have either been in the league for 5 years, or rapidly approaching 5 years, they've had success, they have to channel that into the calm confidence that veteran teams like the Blackhawks and to an extent the Red Wings of earlier this decade had.
Returning to the title, the Islanders need to do what they can to prevent an Eastern Conference rival from acquiring a franchise changing player. It's entirely likely that the Sabres "fail for Connor" in their own right and win the lottery on their own, but the Islanders having another season like this next year is a sure fire way to stack the deck in favor of the next big team to emerge in the East; Buffalo's stock of prospects is impressive and another draft this year with 2 picks will help them further, adding in McDavid+ in 2015 is scary. I'd rather give the Sabres the chance at 2 very good pieces this year and not a blue chip ace in the hole AND another very good prospect in a much deeper draft. This is why I'll keep stating over and over that the Isles should simply punt this years draft, they have a ton of prospects, have contract flexibility to add a college player or two, and have shown the ability to add good pieces late in drafts to mute this year's 1st and 2nd round lost picks. As much as I don't want to see the Islanders have yet another bad season next year, I just want insurance in the form of a secured '15 1st if the Isles find themselves in the Connor McDavid race.