If it wasn’t already painfully clear, it certainly is now: The New York Islanders are going all-in on this season.
There can be no other takeaway after watching them deal away a boatload of assets — two second-round picks, a conditional third-rounder, prospect Ville Pokka, goalie Anders Nilsson and defenceman T.J. Brennan — in exchange for reliable blue-liners Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk.
To understand the rationale behind the moves you need only draw a line back to a similarly bold gambit last season.
The ultimate cost of acquiring Thomas Vanek, failing to extend him and then dealing the winger away was a first-round pick in the deep 2015 draft. That valuable asset now belongs to the Buffalo Sabres and ensures that failure is not an option on Long Island.
Can you imagine if the lost draft pick turned into Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel next spring? Even a franchise that has suffered as much as the Islanders might not be able to take it.
Fortunately, it shouldn’t have to because of the team Garth Snow has assembled. Significantly bolstering his blue-line with Leddy and Boychuk just days before the start of the regular season puts an exclamation point on a tremendous summer for the general manager.
New York finished 26th overall last year, which was no small feat given that it received the league’s worst goaltending and lost captain John Tavares to a knee injury during the Olympic break.
Snow began addressing weaknesses by bringing goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson aboard over the summer — both are major upgrades — and adding depth with free-agent forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin.
Still, there were valid questions to be asked about the quality of the defence corps, at least until a wild Saturday afternoon.
Leddy and Boychuk are tremendous pieces and both came at a reasonable price because the Islanders were dealing from a position of strength. Snow and every other GM around the league knew that Chicago and Boston had to shed salary — ie. good players — to get under the $69-million before Tuesday’s deadline.
If not for that significant factor, neither team would likely have been inclined to entertain these transactions.
Leddy is a former first-round pick who at age 23 comes with plenty of upside. He also has more than 250 games of NHL experience under his belt and, like Boychuk, is a former Stanley Cup champion. The cost for his services was Pokka, Brennan and the rights to Nilsson.
A package of draft picks went to Boston in exchange for Boychuk, who plays a rugged style of game and is a pending unrestricted free agent. The two second-rounders are guaranteed while a third-rounder will only be added if the Islanders end up flipping the defenceman to another Eastern Conference team this season.
All of it gives New York more incentive than ever to win now. The future has already been mortgaged and the purse strings have been loosened. Frankly, it’s about time the organization rolled the dice.
Tavares is 24 now and entering his sixth NHL season and there had to be valid concerns about squandering his prime offensive years by not giving him the right complement of teammates. He was thrilled about the signs from management when I spoke with him just before training camp; today, he must be over the moon.
And this is only just the start.
Big changes are coming to the organization with a pending ownership restructuring and move to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season.
You can probably add a general manager search as well if Snow’s gamble doesn’t produce some results in the meantime, but at least he’s given the team a fighting chance to get them.