Nino Niederreiter’s Trade Request — Poor Communication, Bad Attitude or Misunderstanding?

Kevin Schultz

Yesterday, we found out that Nino Niederreiter wasn’t entirely happy with being a New York Islander and as such, his agent asked GM Garth Snow for a trade sometime last week. Last week, as it just so happens, was the Islanders’ training camp. A camp that Niederreiter wasn’t invited to. It’s probably not a wild assumption to make that the training camp snub was the catalyst for the trade request, be it from the agent’s own initiative or as the agent being a proxy for orders that came straight from the player’s mouth.

This story is a significant story and not something to be lightly pushed aside as simply the work of an “irresponsible journalist.” It’s important because it is the first time one of the all important youths of this rebuild has (allegedly) spoken up in a negative light. Brian Rolston throwing rocks on his way out is one thing. An important piece of the rebuild causing a ruckus is another.

It’s concerning because since the summer of 2007, when the Islanders couldn’t court Ryan Smyth, the entire trajectory of the team has changed to build via the draft and through prospects such as Niederreiter.

Niederreiter has a bit of a history of speaking up, which makes it all the more plausible. He had a small twitter incident last year. He had an early stint in the press box and responded to questions about why he was there with an ‘I don’t know.’

In yesterday’s case and last season’s minor twitter incident, there are two glaring similarities: a player who isn’t happy with his role on the team, and a player who seems to not know what that role is within the organization. The first is a matter of personality, youth, and potentially ignorance. A kid upset at his teacher has a parent call the teacher and try to get changes made. That may be par for the course when dealing with certain people. The teach or organization learns how to handle them. The latter, where Niederreiter doesn’t even know what the plan is, would be more of a problem.

Does Nino Niederreiter really not know the plan that Snow and the Islanders have for him? Is he not getting direction on what the plan of action is? After all we’ve seen from the handling of him, is there even a plan?

Last year, he was a player sitting in the press box tweeting that he wasn’t sure what he was doing there. This year, if we use the timing of the trade request to make the assumption that he was upset about being snubbed from camp, it seems safe to assume that he didn’t know the reasoning for the Islanders not inviting him, and other young players, to training camp.

After ESPN’s initial story of simply ‘a trade request’, Newsday followed up last night with some further detail on the timeline of events:

Islanders general manager Garth Snow received an email from Andre Rufener, the Switzerland-based agent for Nino Niederreiter, asking that Snow try and trade the Isles’ top pick in the 2010 NHL draft…

Rufener sent Snow the email last week, during the Islanders’ six-day training camp prior to the start of the current, 48-game season, voicing his displeasure with the team’s handling of his client. The next day, Snow, along with his coaches from the Islanders and in Bridgeport, sat down with Niederreiter after the scrimmage between the Islanders and the Sound Tigers and discussed why Niederreiter did not get an invite to the NHL camp.

If I’m a manager of any business, hockey or otherwise, I want to make sure my employees understand why I make difficult decisions. Especially if those decisions will impact them negatively. If I’m the manager of a hockey club and decide to leave some of the top minor league players off the training camp roster, I’m failing at my job if I don’t explain to them why. Explain that there is a plan, we’re going to take things slow, and now isn’t the right time (or whatever the reasons). That way, when the news comes down it’s not a shocker. It may not be what they want to hear, but it could likely result in a closed-door discussion instead of a trade demand and public gossip.

Assuming Newsday’s follow up is an accurate description of the events, the Islanders did half the right thing. They sat Nino down, explained the situation, but only after either he or his agent decided they were offended enough to demand a trade. In the end, this could end up being a case of the first news report not having the whole timeline of events, not that it was inaccurate. The news of a trade demand was a shocker but it took a week to get out. Maybe it’s something that has since blown over and been ironed out internally, but only came to leak out to public view just now.

Hopefully there’s a reasonable explanation here. The explanations of either (1) a team not telling one of it’s young stars their plan or (2) he, being immature, got angry and played the nuclear card of a trade demand are bad and worse situations. Hopefully, for this organization that has staked this entire decade on developing homegrown youth, it’s blown out of proportion or a misunderstanding. Regardless, it should never have gotten to the point of a trade demand.