The Islanders have a plan, and it does not include Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk.
General manager Garth Snow had little to say about a rumor floated Thursday that he had done more than just ask Thrashers GM Don Waddell about Kovalchuk, Atlanta's lone marquee player and a likely candidate to be dealt before the March 3 trade deadline.
Snow did not directly refer to Kovalchuk, who reportedly is seeking a nine-figure contract. "We're not going to deviate from our plan," Snow said. "Or break up the core of our team."
That plan - not going overboard in free agency or with trades, and stockpiling young talent - had the Isles sitting in a three-way tie for eighth in the East entering yesterday's action, though technically in 10th with fewer wins than the Senators (who faced the Rangers) and the Canadiens (who hosted the Stars). The battle for the final four Eastern Conference playoff spots had nine teams separated by seven points.
So to decide that it's worth letting a top prospect like Calvin de Haan or Travis Hamonic, plus a few future draft picks, go for Kovalchuk makes very little sense to people inside the Islanders' organization and around the league.
Said Jay Grossman, Kovalchuk's agent: "Our focus will remain on Atlanta."
Snow made a splash in his first season as GM when he obtained Ryan Smyth from the Oilers at the 2007 trade deadline, giving up former first-rounders Robert Nilsson and Ryan O'Marra plus a 2007 first-rounder. The Isles made the playoffs with Smyth, so Nilsson was not missed.
Now the Islanders don't need an infusion of skill and talent to make the postseason. As one rival executive noted, "They can make the playoffs and still not have to bankrupt the future."
The only deal Snow is actively working on now is getting as high a draft pick as possible for Martin Biron, who has become the extra man in net. Biron, Dwayne Roloson and Rick DiPietro shared work in the hour-plus practice at Nassau Coliseum. Roloson likely will start Saturday against the Sabres, with DiPietro picking up one of the two back-to-back games on Monday and Tuesday against the Devils and at the Penguins.
Several teams might realize they need a veteran goaltender in the run-up before the Olympic break, which could enhance Biron's value.
With Katie Strang
Sign up for Newsday’s Islanders texts with a 14-day free trial at newsday.com/islestext.