Over the course of the current NHL season, it seems like there have been a number of times where Islanders fans have revisited the 2013 offseason trade that brought Cal Clutterbuck to the Islanders and shipped Nino Niederreiter to Minnesota.
During the summer, some Islanders fans met the aforementioned move with open arms, while others remained skeptical about dealing away the fifth overall pick from the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Maybe Niederreiter's request for a trade from the Isles' organization during the '12-'13 NHL season made Garth Snow feel as though the right winger would be too much to deal with going forward, but after all was said and done, New York's management felt that they could immediately improve their on-ice product by dealing El Nino for Clutterbuck.
While Niederreiter has received substantially more ice-time with the Wild this season (14:11 average time on ice per game), peripheral statistics certainly don't tell the whole story of this trade. With Niederreiter still adjusting to the NHL and Clutterbuck just hitting his stride in an Islanders sweater, the midway point of the season seemed like a fair marker for a trade reassessment to be made. Both players have certainly brought two different elements to their respective teams, but the question still beckons – was there a clear cut winner in the Niederreiter-Clutterbuck swap?
Niederreiter Gone Wild?
When the Niederreiter-Clutterbuck trade was initially announced, it seemed like an even trade for both teams on the surface. The Islanders would receive a hard-working grinder and physical player in Clutterbuck while the Wild continued to further address their anemic scoring by acquiring a talented right winger in the form of Niederreiter.
Despite the fact that the trade might have been met with mixed reactions by both fan-bases, trading for Niederreiter filled an offensive need for Minnesota, and it looked as though the trade would pay its dividends almost immediately as Niederreiter tallied three points (1 Goal, 2 Assists) in his first five games played as a member of the Wild. Since early October, Niederreiter has gone on to score six more goals and ten more assists, but that certainly doesn't indicate that the forward has been a model of consistency for his new team.
As a matter of fact, Niederreiter's stats could be a bit misleading as he has only had two multi-point games this season and only two occasions where he has registered points in back-to-back games. Niederreiter's current point totals could certainly be a product of getting used to full-time NHL duties, but if the winger's increased playing time has signaled anything to hockey fans, then it is the fact that the forward is still learning with every passing game. Of course, the Islanders could have brought up Niederreiter at some point last season and given him better linemates to play with, but that wouldn't change the fact that the right winger is still going through some form of maturation/development.
Most recently, Niederreiter has seen time on Minnesota's top-line alongside Charlie Coyle and Mikko Koivu, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the Swiss forward only has four points (2 Goals, 2 Assists) during the month of December. This is not to say that Niederreiter will be mired in inconsistent or sub-par performances for the rest of the '13-'14 NHL season, but it is an indicator that the Islanders didn't make a colossal blunder as some fans thought they had. It could be easy to harp on this trade every time Niederreiter has an eye-catching performance for the Wild (just like he did against the Islanders), but factoring out Cal Clutterbuck's impact on the Islanders as a result of El Nino's production wouldn't be doing this trade much justice.
Unfair Expectations On The Island?
Although many welcomed the Niederreiter-Clutterbuck deal for various reasons, just as many fans were probably confused. Questions might have ranged as well as fans could have asked themselves a slew of “what ifs and whys” in order to understand the logistics of the deal.
Why would the Islanders give up on a first-round talent so easily? Did Niederreiter cause enough of a distraction with his trade request to warrant getting booted out of the Isles' organization? Why would the Islanders give up a talented and promising forward for a grinder such as Cal Clutterbuck?
These were just some of the questions undoubtedly floating around in the heads of Islanders fans in the aftermath of the Niederreiter-Clutterbuck deal. Providing an accurate response to the variety of questions posed by Islanders fans might be nigh impossible, but there are definitely some assessments that could be made at this point and time.
Throughout his NHL career, Clutterbuck has never managed to record more than 34 points in a single regular season. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that Clutterbuck has played on a Minnesota team that has been somewhat offensively lacking since the days of Jacques Lemaire. Todd Richards and Mike Yeo haven't fared much better in terms of sparking the Wild's offense over the last few years, but one must also realize that scoring in droves was never part of Clutterbuck's overall game. Sure, Clutterbuck played alongside John Tavares during his OHL days, but the right winger was acquired by Garth Snow in order to bolster New York's identity as a physical and hard-working team – one that battled hard along the boards and would be helped immensely by a player who fit the bill of this team's mold to a tee.
Furthermore, if one wants to factor in Clutterbuck's offensive production, then it would be plain to see that the forward is on pace for the same type of production that he gave the Wild during his five-year tenure with the team. Last season, Clutterbuck amassed 10 points (4 Goals, 6 Assists) in 42 games played. If one factors in the games that Clutterbuck missed during the early portion of the '13-'14 NHL season, then it would be pretty easy to discern the fact that the right winger is on pace for the same type of production that he had as a member of the Wild.
On the other hand, if one were to look at Clutterbuck's hit totals, then they would see that the forward is accomplishing exactly what he was brought in to do. Add in the forward's excellent play on the Penalty Kill as of late and one will see that Clutterbuck is not just a physical player that can tally the occasional point. Trading away a potential top-six forward for a grinder could be a very perplexing move to fans, but until Niederreiter shows consistency in his offensive production this swap cannot be deemed to be a success or failure, it is simply an even trade at the moment – especially since Eamon McAdam will be developing steadily over the next few years.
The Forgotten Pick?
Many might be quick to forget the fact that the Niederreiter-Clutterbuck trade also helped the Islanders eventually haul in Eamon McAdam off of the 2013 NHL Draft board. McAdam was one-half of the Waterloo Blackhawks' goaltending tandem during the '12-'13 hockey season in the USHL, and he certainly impressed the Islanders enough to warrant them using a draft pick on him despite being stocked with goaltending depth (Kevin Poulin, Anders Nilsson, Parker Milner, Kenny Reiter, & Stephon Williams).
McAdam will certainly need time to develop, especially given the fact that he is still a back-up goalie at Penn State University. With the Islanders possessing a fair amount of goaltending depth, it was a bit surprising to see the team choose McAdam in the third round, but one also has to think that if McAdam wasn't an all too impressive goaltending prospect then why would Garth Snow, a former goalie, even consider using a draft pick on the youngster?
While McAdam might not be an integral piece, or consequence, of the Niederreiter-Clutterbuck deal, his development over the next couple of years should also be factored in when assessing the benefits or disadvantages of the aforementioned trade.
At the moment, it is hard to label a winner and a loser in regard to this deal. It seems as though the Minnesota Wild have the utmost confidence in Niederreiter, otherwise they wouldn't be giving him top-line looks and increased minutes. Conversely, Cal Clutterbuck has been doing what he was asked to do when he was acquired by the Islanders over the summer, and the forward has accomplished that task successfully for the large part.
For a team that still sits 29th in terms of overall scoring in the NHL, Niederreiter does not seem to have made an immediate or incredibly noteworthy impact on the Wild just yet. The future undoubtedly holds much promise for Niederreiter, but judging the trade as a failure for the Islanders every time Niederreiter has a good night would not be fair.
Clutterbuck's impact on the Islanders goes beyond goal and assist totals, and until Niederreiter and McAdam prove that they are viable NHL forces this trade should not be evaluated solely based on the merits of one winger's statistical performance.