The Islanders have the fifth pick in Friday's draft and, rather than going into draft weekend looking to add to their prospect pool as in years past, Islanders general manager Garth Snow is looking to trade that pick for NHL-ready talent after an unsuccessful season.
"We're open to trading the pick for someone we think can come in and help us right away," Snow said recently.
After spending last summer plugging smaller holes and prioritizing long-term deals for his own restricted free agents, Snow clearly wants to upgrade his roster this summer. He began doing it early, trading a fourth-round pick May 1 to the Caps for the rights to goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who signed a four-year, $18-million deal three weeks later to become the presumptive No. 1 goaltender the Isles haven't had.
The Islanders still need a backup or two, with Evgeni Nabokov having turned down a one-year offer. But now Snow's main focus is using that fifth pick to find either a top-pair defenseman or a top-line left wing to play alongside John Tavares and Kyle Okposo.
This is where it gets tricky. If this were a high-end draft year, teams in a salary-cap crunch might be willing to take the No. 5 pick plus some sweetening with a lower-level prospect or two and swap out a young winger or a young defenseman.
But this is not a high-end draft, though the Islanders do benefit from there being a consensus top five prospects for Friday's first round, so a team might be willing to meet the Isles' asking price on the floor of Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia when the Islanders are on the clock. The Panthers, who own the top pick, are also openly shopping it, which doesn't make Snow's pick seem so precious.
Obtaining top-end, NHL-established talent might take a bit more sweetening. The Islanders have numerous defense prospects, headlined by the untouchable Griffin Reinhart -- according to a source, Snow called Reinhart last week to assure the 20-year-old defenseman that the Islanders will not be trading him, despite some hopeful rumors out of Edmonton.
Ryan Pulock, the team's 2013 first-rounder, is ticketed for AHL Bridgeport this season. It would take a big-name offer to entice Snow to move Pulock along with this year's pick. More likely the Islanders would be willing to move Matt Donovan, an RFA, in a deal.
There is also free agency if no deal can be struck on the draft floor. Marian Gaborik, Radim Vrbata and Jussi Jokinen are among the high-end wingers who could be available July 1. Old friend Thomas Vanek could be out there, too, longing for a reunion with Tavares after struggling in the playoffs with the Canadiens.
On defense, Los Angeles Stanley Cup-winners Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene will be available, as will less expensive options such as Andre Benoit, Clayton Stoner, Mark Fayne and Mike Kostka. Only through a trade will the Isles find a significant defense upgrade, though. Even the flier they took on trying to sign 38-year-old Dan Boyle was more of a depth upgrade than a momentous shift on the team's defense.
But upgrade they must. The final season at Nassau Coliseum is a big one, not just historically. The Islanders have to be back playing competitive hockey all season long before they reach their new home in Brooklyn in 2015.