Over the past few NHL seasons, the New York Islanders have been a team on a limited budget. They have made calculated, cost efficient roster transactions that have rarely made the headlines. Draft and development has become the motto of the organization as they continue to acquire key players through the draft from Ryan Strome to Ryan Pulock. With that being said, the 2013-14 New York Islanders season could very well end up being symbolized by two franchise affecting trades.
The Isles started the 2013 draft off with a bang, trading their 2010 fifth overall pick, Nino Niederreiter, to Minnesota, for forward Cal Clutterbuck and a third round pick in last year’s draft. The dealing of Niederreiter was inevitable, as the there was a clear fracture between the prospect and the Islanders’ organization. Was it worth giving up so early on such a potential NHL scorer? This is a question (one highlighted in my 5 keys to season) that could haunt the remaining tenure of GM Garth Snow.
Sure, Nino was deemed a bad egg who could have had a negative impact on the team, but when does talent overcome chemistry? Through 27 games, Niederreiter has 15 points (5G, 10A), while Clutterbuck has been limited to 4 points (2G,2A) through 20 games. I’d be a fool to think Clutterbuck could match Nino’s offensive capabilities, but it’s impossible not to factor in that Niederreiter would be the 4th leading scorer on the Islanders if he were on the roster. He might have his immature tendencies, but this is the NHL. You might not like the guy you’re lining up next to, but we’re talking about professionals here. Couldn’t the Islanders have found a way to make this work? I’m all for team chemistry, but this trade is seeming more and more like a lopsided loss through the first third of the season for the Islanders.
On October 28th, Garth Snow did a complete 180 and decided to sacrifice chemistry for talent. Off to a sluggish start in the first month of the season (4-4-3), the Isles’ GM pulled the trigger on a major deal, sending 1st line winger Matt Moulson to Buffalo for all star Thomas Vanek. A fan of the deal at the time, the subtraction of Moulson from the roster could very well end up being the turning point of the season for the team.
Did the Islanders need Thomas Vanek? This is the second question that could leave a lasting impression on the 2013-14 Islanders’ season. Taking a look at the roster on November 30th, the team is at a similar place, if not worse, to where they were when acquiring Vanek: Weak on defense, and sketchy goaltending. Should the Islanders have focused their attention elsewhere?
Since the trade, Moulson has 11 points (4,7) in 14 games for the Sabres, while Vanek has scored 7 points (3,4) in a limited 10 games for the Isles. Both players have been respectable on their new squads, but the Islanders’ have gone downhill quickly following the trade. They are currently last in the Metropolitan division, and 27th overall in the NHL. Quite simply, the team is atrocious right now, and the effort has been lacking for a handful of games.
Was the chemistry of the team completely thrown off by this trade? Going by the numbers, the clear answer is yes. The Islanders have 1 regulation win since the trade. What’s even scarier is behind the numbers. The team is losing, and losing badly. Recent home losses to Winnipeg and Detroit have seen the team hit a season low, where their performance can be characterized as lethargic at best.
Are these trades the reason why the Islanders’ are terrible right now? It’s tough to put the blame in one specific area given how bad the Islanders have been lately, but these two roster transactions certainly haven’t helped.
Team chemistry versus individual talent: It’s a thin line that a general manager has to walk. Nino Niederreiter was an immature prospect with an abundance of talent. The Islanders decided he wasn’t worth the risk. Matt Moulson was a dedicated point producer who was a key piece to the chemistry of the team’s core. Evidently, his talent level and room presence were expendable in order to get an all star in Thomas Vanek. These are the moves that define a team. The Islanders were a promising playoff team just a handful of weeks back, but since the Vanek-Moulson trade, they have imploded.