A pivotal block of time begins on Monday for the Islanders and general manager Garth Snow, who head into next weekend’s NHL draft and the following week’s free agency period with many questions about where the team is headed.
The Isles own the 19th pick in Friday’s first round in Buffalo, but then do not have another pick until the fourth round — their second-rounder went in the package of picks to the Bruins for Johnny Boychuk before the 2014-15 season and the third-rounder went to the Senators for Shane Prince at this past season’s trade deadline.
And that 19th overall pick could end up going in a trade as well. Sources indicated that Snow would be willing to move that first-round pick as part of a package for an established NHL forward if the Isles GM can find a deal to his liking.
The rumor mill has been working overtime this week, with Snow among numerous GMs who are trying to remake their teams with the specter of a flat salary cap heading into next season and the prospect of an expansion draft looming next offseason. That may mean some surprising names could be bandied about in trade talks when the teams convene on the First Niagara Center on Friday to begin the draft.
Snow gave a window into some of his thinking during a satellite radio interview on Friday morning. The Islanders have three veterans who are now just two weeks from unrestricted free agency and Kyle Okposo, the biggest name among them, is clearly headed elsewhere.
“We’re just in a situation with the salary cap that you really have to analyze where you are today and where you’re going to be in five years from now. So there’s always tough decisions,” Snow said. “Kyle’s a great person. He’s been a terrific player for this organization. Wish him nothing but the best.”
Snow was not asked about Matt Martin or Frans Nielsen, but sources indicated that Snow and Marc Levine, Nielsen’s agent, have been in contact on a long-term deal in recent days.
Martin, like Okposo, appears headed for a new team once free agency begins on July 1.
If the Islanders do make their pick at No. 19 there will be some appealing options in a deep first round that will most certainly begin with the Leafs selecting Auston Matthews first.
The Isles could get lucky and see one of a couple of strong defensemen fall to 19, including Long Beach’s Charlie McAvoy, who current attends Boston University. Among forwards, winger Kieffer Bellows, son of former NHLer Brian, would be a catch; so would Alex DeBrincat, the 5-foot-7 Michigan native who has back-to-back 51-goal seasons for Erie of the Ontario League, where DeBrincat played with Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome.
But the challenge for Snow and the Isles is to improve the roster with the impending departure of Okposo, who has either led or finished second on the Isles in scoring the past three seasons, as well as the popular Martin, who has led the NHL in hits the past five years.
Some of that improvement — or at least change — will likely happen on the draft floor next weekend. And it won’t have anything to do with the Isles’ potential draft pick.
Snow said on Friday he doesn’t see a trade to move up the draft board, but perhaps down to collect an extra pick.
“I don’t think we’ll try to move up. It’s tough,” he said. “We don’t have a second round pick. We traded our third round pick to get Shane Prince at the deadline this year. In order to maneuver up in the draft, you usually need more draft picks. We’re happy with the prospects we have, so I don’t envision us trading one of them, or anyone from our current lineup to move up.”
But if a trade for a player to slot into Okposo’s top-line spot materializes, Snow may have to surrender one of those prospects and that first-rounder to make sure his team does not take a step back after winning a playoff round this last season for the first time since 1993.