A funny thing has happened in the past month-and-a-half. Since sacrificing three major pieces to obtain Thomas Vanek from the Sabres, the Islanders have been in a veritable tail spin; a tail spin that has taken them to just a handful of points away from the Sabres home in the NHL’s basement.
New York’s descent to the bottom of the Metro Division and NHL standings have left the organization, Garth Snow specifically, in a precarious situation as the rest of this season unfolds. Despite the massive shortcomings in the Metro Division, it would appear that the Islanders are dead in the water with regard to the Eastern Conference playoff picture. That leaves them just a few points from the basement and the potential to land a top-five pick based on their spot in the lottery. But with the Islanders due to fork over a first round pick to Buffalo in exchange for Vanek, Snow and his staff will need to determine if they want to lose a potential first round pick this year or miss out on what could be a very valuable chip in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.
When the Vanek trade went through, determining which pick would turn Snow from saving to sacrificing his 2015 pick was a hot topic of conversation. However, talking about what Snow’s train of thought would be with a pick in the five-to-eight range is much different than if the Islanders are picking in the top three. The former being the more popular train of thought as a late slide out of playoff contention seemed like it could be the most likely scenario the Sabres would find themselves in terms of snagging a second first round pick this year.
With the Islanders struggling as badly as they have, a few more factors come into play with regard to their next two first round picks.
How the perception of this year’s draft versus one anchored by Connor McDavid is seen in the eyes of the Islanders scouts will likely be the first thing that is considered. Snow will need to determine if any player the Islanders could pick this year would outweigh what they’ll end up with in next season’s draft.
Additionally, Snow will need to try and forecast where his team will end up at the end of the 2014-15 season in his decision. Is this year’s slide driven by the lack of a consistent goaltender and depth on defense? Can those two issues be solved in free agency this coming summer, thus improving New York’s chances in 14-15? Will anyone they pick in the first round of this year’s draft do anything to improve that situation? Will any future roster moves (ex: calling up Ryan Strome) serve to move the Islanders back up the standings?
Before the Islanders hit the skids, the safe assumption was that a pick in the four-to-eight range would give Snow just cause to consider using his 2014 pick. Given that they’re staring the second overall pick in the face would likely indicate that his decision has been made for him. However, should Snow project the Islanders to struggle through 14-15, the combination of not taking a top-three player (assuming they choose to keep their ’15 pick) and their current roster could mean a prime opportunity for McDavid. If there’s even a chance that the Isles could end up in the basement again next year, there’s almost no reason to risk missing out on McDavid.
The situation that most Sabres fans are likely rooting for is the one in which Snow doesn’t wish to sacrifice a top-three pick and retains his 2014 first round selection to pick up a player like Aaron Ekblad, Michael DelColle or even William Nylander. Then, the Isles slide continues with them winding up near the top of next year’s draft lottery too with the Sabres there to reap the benefits. In that fantasy dreamland the Sabres would wind up with both their own and the Islanders lottery balls to boost their chances at McDavid.
The Sabres, however, are in a phenomenal position regardless of the unenviable position Garth Snow finds himself in. Should Snow decide not to risk the chance at a McDavid or Jack Eichel, Buffalo could potentially be looking at snagging the first two picks in the draft and skyrocketing the talent in their already deep prospect pool.
Worst case scenario is if the Islanders a slotted in the second spot overall, pick Aaron Ekblad and then patch some of their other holes in free agency. Should those fixes prove to push them higher in the standings, the Sabres might be looking at a mid-first round selection in 2015. But in a deeper draft it isn’t the worst consolation.
Snow’s predicament is a difficult one, while the Sabres are basically sitting on easy street as even the worst case scenario provides them with two picks in the upper end of a strong 2015 first round. Whereas the best possible scenario sees them with a pair of picks in this year’s top five or a near shoo-in for Connor McDavid.