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SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

Islanders trade just first step in plan

Nashville Predators left wing Steve Sullivan (26) is

Nashville Predators left wing Steve Sullivan (26) is checked by New York Islanders defenseman Andy Sutton (25). (February 9, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday/Christopher Pasatieri

The plan trumps the playoff push. That's the important thing to remember as the Islanders get ready for today's NHL trade deadline.

General manager Garth Snow already took the first step in furthering the plan by sending Andy Sutton, the Isles' second-best defenseman this season, to the Senators for a second-round pick in the June draft Tuesday afternoon.

Snow's team went out and, despite allowing 22 first-period shots, managed to take down the Hawks, one of the best teams in the league, 5-3. Chicago did not get good goaltending; the Islanders did, from Dwayne Roloson, who may yet follow Sutton out the door before the clock strikes 3 p.m. Wednesday. Perhaps even to the Hawks, who are among the dozen teams looking to shore up before the playoffs.

Dealing Roloson might not be the smartest short-term move for the Islanders, who would be left with Marty Biron - he's played twice since Dec. 27 - and a minor-leaguer, since Rick DiPietro went on injured reserve Tuesday with swelling in his left knee.

But, with 19 games left and the Islanders staring up at three teams before you even get to eighth place, the plan takes precedence over Snow keeping all his chips as the deadline passes.

Snow's plan is the right way, the smart way to continue to try and rebuild a team that started from so very far back before last season.

Roloson, with one year and a $2.5-million salary cap hit left beyond this season, could help a team in need of a calming, veteran influence down the stretch; that applies to Biron, an unrestricted free agent after the season, as well.

Don't rule out the Islanders trying to make a deal for a young, unwanted player, only if Snow can bring someone in without blowing up the plan - he won't send out high draft picks, he'll only bring them in. And he won't bring in the unwanted, overpaid players other teams are trying to shed, like the Panthers' Nathan Horton or the Blues' Brad Boyes.

Adding, subtracting, buying, selling - those labels don't really matter. The Islanders' plan is what matters, getting better, however slowly.

"Just because a trade has been made doesn't mean our season is over and we're not going to try anymore," Scott Gordon said before the game. "Our players are still trying to establish themselves as being more than just a team that's trying to get in the playoffs. We're trying to get better every day and hope we can build our confidence."

There was some confidence-building last night, with Blake Comeau's very unlikely hat trick and goals from Richard Park and Jon Sim. Dustin Kohn played decently in place of Sutton, and Kohn will get his shot to show he belongs on the Islanders' defense full time.

Roloson was brilliant, slowing down the Hawks' potent attack just enough to get the Islanders a win. They won, but just about everyone else they're chasing won, leaving the playoff cut line five points and four teams away.

It's nice to think this team, which has overachieved at times this season, could be in the playoffs this year. That certainly was a possibility a couple of months ago, before John Tavares hit his rookie slump and DiPietro returned, upsetting the goaltender rotation.

But it's nicer to think that, with a couple extra high draft picks and loads of salary cap space, the Islanders will not just be a team fighting in vain for the last playoff berth, but be a team that's in the Stanley Cup hunt, year after year.

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