Isles take another step towards keeping 2014 pick with Halak trade

The move that sent Jaroslav Halak to the Capitals was one that ensured Tim Murray ensured that he had a goaltender who would be with the organization past this summer’s free agency period. Little did many know that Halak would wind up becoming a contributing factor in which first round pick the Sabres receive from the Islanders.

Halak was swapped by the Capitals for a fourth round pick yesterday in a move that gives the Islanders two full months to negotiate with Halak ahead of free agency. This is a move geared towards improving the Islanders now. Their lack of goaltending last year kept the Islanders from competing for a playoff position and ultimately pushed them towards the top of the draft. While this isn’t a final piece of a Cup run puzzle it’s certainly a move that indicates that Snow won’t be taking the scenic route towards reshaping the roster.

That route likely includes using their 2014 first round pick.

There’s still the possibility that Halak chooses to test the market despite the Islanders efforts to get in him ahead of time – remember, the Islanders failed to get Christian Ehrhoff under contract after trading a fourth round pick for his rights in 2014. Should that be the case Snow would be stuck pursuing a contingency plan in net. Either way, it’s obvious that he wants to make immediate improvements to his roster which tells me they aren’t necessarily in the tanking business for 2014-15.

This move, along with a few other maneuvers at the deadline tells me that Snow is planning on handing over his 2015 first round pick to the Sabres. The first and most obvious tell was the report in which Snow said he’d wager any amount of money on keeping his pick. That alone is evidence enough that the Islanders will be using the fifth pick. Finding a quality goaltender like Halak to plug the hole in net ought to account for a jump in the standings for the Islanders is another indication that Snow is not expecting to be handing over a lottery ticket for Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Lastly, Snow made sure to acquire a second round selection in next year’s draft in exchange for Andrew McDonald.

That last point may seem odd considering they now have a bonus second round pick in this year’s draft thanks to a condition in the Thomas Vanek trade to Montreal. However, the Islanders still held the 36th selection this year regardless of whether or not they wound up with that additional pick. In 2015 they were looking at a possibility of sitting out the first and second round due to the trade that originally brought Vanek to the Island. By acquiring Philadelphia’s second round pick, Snow still has a presence in the top-60 of what’s expected to be a deep draft.

Missing out on a guaranteed top-five pick is obviously unfortunate for the Sabres. That type of currency would have granted Murray the ability to do a number of things that would even include moving up a spot or two in this year’s draft. However, knowing that the 2015 pick is all but assured the Sabres may be in an even better position.

Once Snow and the Islanders officially grant the Sabres their 2015 pick Buffalo will hold three selections in the first round of next year’s draft. Their own, New York’s and St. Louis’. While the Blues pick will be down towards the bottom of the first round, it’s a safe assumption that Buffalo’s own pick will be up near the top. In fact, Tim Murray may be sitting in the TSN studios yet again when Bill Daly is pulling the lottery. New York’s will be something of a mystery, especially if Halak’s addition does enough to push them into playoff contention.

Short of making a number of offseason acquisitions, I’m not entirely sold on Halak doing enough to put the Islanders into the playoffs next year. I know their numbers point to a team that would have been in contention with even average goaltending but I can’t buy into them being a playoff team. Not yet. I will say that they’re going to be a hell of a lot closer to a playoff position than they will be to the fifth or first pick.

That doesn’t do much of anything for the Sabres lottery hopes aside from offering a very slight boost in the percentage of lottery balls they have. Of course, should the Islanders nosedive the Sabres will be licking their chops as next year’s lottery approaches.

What excites me about the prospect of earning the Islanders pick next year is the ability to parlay that pick, and others, into NHL ready players. The Sabres have a burgeoning amount of currency in the form of draft picks over the next two years and I don’t think it’s necessary that they use all of them. Having the ability to package those picks in trades to acquire NHL talent allows Murray to significantly accelerate the rebuild. So for those fans who aren’t willing to be patient with prospect development, missing out on the fifth pick this year could be a good thing.

While losing out on the certainty that the fifth pick this year would offer, I’m almost more interested in having a deeper stockpile in next year’s draft to not only maximize flexibility in trades but also to potentially boost Buffalo’s chances in the lottery and ultimately control more selections in what is expected to be a deeper draft. It’s a risky proposal based on the simple fact that the Islanders could undergo a significant transformation and leave the Sabres with two picks outside the top 15.

There’s still plenty of time for Garth Snow to do something stupid. It’s what he does, after all. But given the actions he has taken recently it seems clear that the Sabres will only be picking once in the first round this year. But by no means does that represent a set back for the rebuild.

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