The Islanders did not make a trade with one of the 29 other existing NHL teams before Saturday’s 3 p.m. roster freeze, so perhaps there’s a deal already in the works with the newest NHL franchise.
With their protected list submitted to the league by the 5 p.m. deadline Saturday — all teams’ lists for Wednesday’s expansion draft will be revealed Sunday — the Islanders are believed to be one of several teams either with a deal in place or working on one with the Vegas Golden Knights to ensure certain unprotected players are not taken.
That deal could take the form of a high draft pick — the Isles own the 15th and 46th picks in the first two rounds — a lower-level prospect or both to entice Vegas general manager George McPhee to keep away from the prime players that the Isles have left unprotected.
With the option of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender or eight total skaters and a goaltender, the Isles had protection decisions at both forward and defense. John Tavares, Andrew Ladd and Anders Lee are believed to be on the protected list, with Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome on the bubble for a fourth spot if the Isles, as expected, went with eight skaters rather than seven forwards and three defensemen.
On defense, it’s even more fraught. Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk were locks to be protected, but either one or two from among Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey and Ryan Pulock were likely left unprotected; Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield, young contributors this past season, were almost certainly left unprotected as well.
But a deal could alleviate all those concerns. GM Garth Snow was involved in numerous trade conversations over the past few weeks as the Islanders search for a high-end forward, with Hamonic and de Haan the most likely trade bait, but few teams were willing to jump at a trade before Saturday’s freeze with all the uncertainty over how a trade would juggle the team’s protection list.
The Blue Jackets were believed to have already made a deal with Vegas to surrender a first-round pick so that McPhee would steer clear of certain unprotected players. Columbus picks 24th, well behind the Islanders, who may choose to send something other than the 15th pick Vegas’ way in order to package that pick in a possible draft-floor deal for that impact forward next Friday.
McPhee, who worked as an advisor to Snow for two seasons before being named Vegas’ inaugural GM — and was Snow’s first player agent back in the 1980s — and his organization issued a statement Saturday night intended to show his generosity with a process many GMs were grumbling about.
“Vegas has indicated that they will give all 30 clubs every opportunity to keep their rosters intact if they like,” the statement said. “McPhee and his staff are willing to negotiate deals so the other clubs do not lose a player they would otherwise like to keep.”
The Islanders may have already headed down that road, trying to keep as many assets as possible to upgrade the team once the expansion craziness is behind them.