Here on allislanders.com, we’ve been trying to figure out who the Islanders would protect from the Vegas Golden Knights for nearly a year. Over that span, we came up with several different combinations of players but when the lists were publicized yesterday, there was an unexpected name among the nine the Isles protected. Due to their no-movement clauses, we knew that John Tavares, Andrew Ladd, and Johnny Boychuk had to be protected. We weren’t surprised to see Anders Lee, Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Ryan Pulock, and Thomas Greiss on the list as well but we were surprised to see Adam Pelech. Looking back at mock drafts from fans and experts, I couldn’t find more than a handful of people that put Pelech’s name among those protected by the Isles. Since the list was released over 24 hours ago, Isles fans and hockey fans have struggled to make sense of Pelech’s name on the list. Let’s try to make sense of things.
The Islanders opted to protect five defensemen. If you told me this anytime before the lists came out on Sunday, I would have assumed they went with Boychuk, Leddy, Hamonic, Pulock, and Calvin de Haan. de Haan is coming off his best NHL season and at 26 years old, one can only hope that he keeps on getting better. He’s a physical, shot-blocking, shutdown defenseman who found his offensive touch with five goals and 20 assists through 82 games this season. So if you told me they protected five defensemen I’d be surprised but relieved that de Haan was safe from Vegas. However, even with five defensemen protected, the Isles left de Haan off the list and opted for 22 year old Adam Pelech. Sure, he’s been a steady defenseman through his 53 NHL games but were the Isles even at risk of losing him? If they were truly afraid, wouldn’t a second or third rounder keep Vegas away? I don’t know. George McPhee, the Golden Knight’s General Manager, worked in the Isles’ organization last year, so maybe the Isles know that he’s high on Pelech?
Not only does this make de Haan an option for Vegas but it makes forwards Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Josh Bailey, and Casey Cizikas available as well. Given his contract, Vegas might not be interested in paying Cizikas $3.35 million annually (through the 2020-2021 season) to play in a bottom-six role. However, Josh Bailey is certainly an option. It might be a direct result of playing alongside John Tavares but the 27 year old Bailey had 13 goals and 43 assists through an impressive 2016-2017 campaign. What about Ryan Strome or Brock Nelson? Strome’s numbers aren’t where they should be considering his draft position (5th overall in 2011) and his rookie season numbers (50 points during the 2014-2015 season) but why not take a chance on the 23 year old who still had 30 points (13G,17A) this past season? The same goes for Brock Nelson who has scored 20 or more goals in the past three seasons. If you were the GM for the Knights, would you pass up the opportunity to grab a a 20+ goal scorer for free? However, experts and insiders believe the Isles have this covered. Apparently, the Isles’ first round pick (15th overall), will be enough to prevent Vegas from selecting any of these players. I simply don’t believe that. The Blue Jackets are reportedly giving up the 24th overall pick and maybe even a prospect to keep Vegas away from Josh Anderson, goaltender Joonas Korpisalo and/or their veteran defensemen. If the Blue Jackets are offering that much to keep the Knights away from those players, how could the 15th overall pick cover all of those Isles forwards? So far, this makes no sense.
Thinking about it for over a day, I think I finally found a logical reason. Keep in mind, all of this is just speculation. Unfortunately I don’t have access to the sources and other tools that beat writers and reporters have but here’s my best guess for what the Isles are doing. I do believe they have a trade in place and I do believe it involves their first round pick. I think the Isles had a trade in place with Vegas before they handed their list in. I don’t think the list they handed in matters because I believe that they agreed on what player the Knights would take from them beforehand. All of this could have been as simple as, “We’ll give you our first round pick if you take ___________.”, “Deal.” If this is the case, then the list the Islanders handed in on Sunday morning didn’t matter all along.
So let’s say this is what happened. Then, all of this makes sense. Now, figuring out who this player is. We’re going to assume that the Islanders aren’t ready to part ways with Nelson, Strome, or de Haan. Maybe throw Bailey on that list too. Now we’re probably talking about Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, Thomas Hickey, and Nikolay Kulemin. Kulemin’s been a pretty good two-way forward throughout his three years with the Isles but he hasn’t really lived up to the $4.1 million he’s making annually. This upcoming season will be the final season on his four-year deal. Would Vegas be willing to take Kulemin for the 15th overall pick? I don’t see why not. Vegas needs to spend 60%-100% of the $73 million salary cap ($43.8 million minimum). Kulemin’s $4.1 million could defiently help them reach that number. At 30 years old, Kulemin had 12 goals and 11 assists (23 points) through 72 games. He’s also a solid penalty-killer that could help out the (projected) relatively young Vegas players become better two-way players. Come trade deadline time, Kulemin could also be used as a player Vegas can ship off as a rental for a second or third round pick. Seems like a no-brainer for me.
The Expansion Draft will be held in Las Vegas this Wednesday, and nothing will make sense for sure until then. For now, the speculation and rumors continue.