Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Islanders' final 20: What do we want?

The Olympics are over, Canada got its gold medal, and the Russian president is about to roll some heads. But there's no time to bask in the Olympic glow (or, if you're Team USA, wallow in the disappointment). The stretch run for the NHL season is here, and the trade deadline is just a day away. Which means teams have decisions to make.

For the Islanders and GM Garth Snow, there will be many phone calls initiated and received. Does Snow trade Andy Sutton? What about Dwyane Roloson and Martin Biron? Or any of the team's other unrestricted free agents like Doug Weight, RIchard Park, or Jon Sim?

UPDATE: Sutton is traded. See below.

The reality is murky. The Islanders -- despite losing 9 of 11 prior to the Olympic break -- are one of seven teams within striking distance of the final two playoff spots in the East. The Isles have 20 games left to play, 11 of those at home, where they have a winning record (unlike, say, the Rangers).

I used to think that if your team was on the bubble, it didn't matter if it made the playoffs or not, because it would probably get bounced in the opening round, with an outside chance of making it to round two. But with this Islanders team, I think making the playoffs -- even if it led to a first-round elimination -- would be huge.

With a core of young players, to reach the post-season now would be a tremendous boost in experience and confidence and would help accelerate the group's development, and would affirm that coach Scott Gordon has the team headed in the right direction.

Can that happen? Seven teams is quite a scrum, but it's possible that the team goes on a run and squeaks in. Possible, but not likely, especially if Snow trades away key pieces. Snow's moves will be made solely on what benefits the club in the long term.

Take the goalies. Snow should deal whoever brings back a higher return, and that's likely to be Roloson. He played great while he was here, but a 40-year-old netminder isn't part of the future.

Sutton's story is a little different. I'd hate to see him go. He's big and mobile, but he's going to be a free agent, and there are plenty of suitors. If the Isles cannot sign him to an extension now (and that's pretty remote at this point), then it makes sense to trade him to a contender willing to rent him and then try and sign him as a free agent this summer. Keep in mind, he'll be 35 in a week.

Dealing Sutton would hurt the team's playoff chances more than anything else, but you've gotta do what you've gotta do.

(UPDATED: Sutton was traded Tuesday afternoon to Ottawa for a 2nd-round pick. MORE)

As a fan of this team, my approach is "whatever happens, happens." Making the playoffs this season was always a remote possibility, so being within hailing distance of the playoffs with 20 games left isn't bad. If Snow can convert some pieces into draft picks or prospects, all the better.

If the team somehow catches lightning in a bottle (and gets some serious help along the way) and makes the playoffs anyway, then that would be icing on the cake, and it would be fun to see how the team performs in that setting.

The endgame begins tonight at home against Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks. Keep your trade trackers on.

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