Islanders in rare air: Middle of first round at NHL draft
The Islanders are in a rather new position entering Sunday's NHL draft: middle of the pack. They have their first non-lottery pick in six years after a modestly successful season, so the excitement surrounding their appearance on the draft floor at Newark's Prudential Center is rather muted.
And that indeed is progress.
The Islanders hold the 15th pick in what is considered a solid first-round draft class. With the salary cap going down to $64.3 million next season and free agency on the horizon Friday -- plus the buyout window currently open until Thursday -- talk around the league has tended more toward possible trades and potential signings rather than draft picks, outside of the top few teams.
But the Islanders still have another prospect to add to their stock of young talent.
"Obviously, the top end is really, really good," Isles scouting director Trent Klatt said. "But sitting where we sit, I'm confident we're going to get a player who will help this organization for a long time, no doubt."
Sitting where the Islanders sit at the NHL level is taking up most of general manager Garth Snow's time as he tries to find a goaltender, the biggest need for the team this offseason.
Contract talks with Evgeni Nabokov, who started 41 of 48 games and all six playoff games last season, have stalled. The sides are not that far apart on a one-year deal, but the Islanders are not interested in giving the 37-year-old goaltender a decent-sized raise off the $2.75 million he made in 2012-13. So Nabokov will head to free agency.
Snow has been involved in trade discussions, first for Jonathan Bernier, who went from the Kings to the Maple Leafs, and then for Roberto Luongo, who seems headed for a trade or a buyout of his onerous contract from Vancouver.
The Islanders had offered Rick DiPietro's bad contract in exchange for Luongo's, which would save the Canucks some money on a buyout and give the Isles a veteran starter in Luongo, whom former Islanders general manager Mike Milbury drafted No. 4 overall in 1997.
But the Canucks are looking for an asset in return for Luongo, so it appears the Islanders have moved on from that option for now. They would have interest in Luongo if the Canucks buy him out next week.
As for DiPietro, Snow is shopping the 31-year-old's contract -- which has eight years at $4.5 million per remaining -- to teams who would swap a player with a bad contract for the purpose of buying DiPietro out. If that doesn't happen, the Islanders have not indicated what they will do with DiPietro, but it appears as though a compliance buyout (one that does not count against the salary cap) is the best option and that the one-time franchise goaltender has worn the Islanders' jersey for the last time.
So the focus on the draft floor won't be on another top-five Islanders pick. They traded their second-round pick to the Ducks for Lubomir Visnovsky at last June's draft, so there doesn't seem to be much ammo for the Islanders to move up from No. 15.
"Even though things have changed for the better with our NHL team, we've still done our due diligence on everybody," Klatt said. "You never know what can happen."