Kevin SchultzYesterday, the Islanders sent Nino Niederreiter packing to Minnesota in exchange for a third round pick and grinder Cal Clutterbuck. For fans, the return was less than they desired for the Top-5 scoring talent. But the return wasn’t bad, considering the position of weakness that the Islanders were dealing from; Niederreiter and the Islanders weren’t on good terms and other teams knew that. The problem isn’t the return the Islanders got on Niederreiter, it’s that they essentially mismanaged what was a fifth overall draft pick to get themselves into a weak position.
Once other teams know that you’re in a weak position with a player, that will about do it for their trade value.
Take the Canucks; they tried desperately for more than a year to get rid of Roberto Luongo at a sky-high price. They could have had a decent return on him from the Leafs at the trade deadline but passed, and they were left with either scraps (“hey, would you like Rick DiPietro?”) or dealing their other goaltender, Corey Schneider. On Sunday, they chose the easier and more lucrative path of dealing the goalie without the no-trade clause, huge contract and other baggage.
While the Islanders cannot be faulted for a player’s actions of requesting out and being a malcontent, there’s no doubt that the Niederreiter situation is one that they themselves helped create.
In 2011-12 the Islanders completely misused Niederreiter. An early season groin injury set him back immediately and kept him off the opening night roster. When he returned, he was not optioned back to Portland of the WHL. Instead, he was left to toil a full season on a fourth line with the likes of the gifted offensive talents of Marty Reasoner and Jay Pandolfo. Not what you would call a positive situation. Not only that, but it’s highly likely the entire motivation for keeping him on the roster was to meet the cap floor was Niederreiter’s unattainable bonuses (see blog post from 2011 here) and not because it may have been best for the player. In hindsight, it was obviously not the right decision.
A year later, Niederreiter lit up the AHL during the lockout and clearly expected to be a part of the team. The Islanders responded by not inviting him to training camp and that begot the trade request.
The trade request was juvenile, for sure, but the Islanders failed to know their player. Either they completely miscalculated how he would react or did not know the type of person that they drafted in the first place.
Either way, from that point on they were in a position of weakness. The Islanders would want to get rid of Niederreiter more than other teams would want to take him on. Any GM in their right mind will left an eye-brow when a colleague calls not asking about trading for a top-five pick but rather trying to unload one.
You would think the Islanders might have learned from playing Josh Bailey in the NHL so early in his career. Bailey is finally now starting to come into his own and silence the almost deafening fans cries that he had been mishandled or was a bad draft pick (the outright failure of Nikita Filatov has helped, too). But with Niederreiter, the Islanders may have misevaluated his personality and, to compound that, kept him on the team for budgetary reasons.
This was probably the right point at which to deal Niederreiter, too. If he had stayed on Long Island and, let’s say, miss the cut at training camp due to lack of skill that would be a knock on his value. And if the team holds onto him until next summer, he hits restricted free agency. Maybe he makes like Ullstrom and bolts for Europe. Maybe there’s a tense contract negotiation and the Islanders get him on a short-term deal but a year or two after that he’s unrestricted and free to leave for nothing. Either way, the future trade scenarios just get worse than Cal Clutterbuck and a third.
The Islanders got what they could for Niederreiter, but it shouldn’t have come to that.