New York Islanders fans are in something of a dither¹ with the news that GM Garth Snow has given up on talented prospect Nino Niederreiter, dumping him to the Minnesota Wild for a third-round pick and forward Cal Clutterbuck.
(¹ I concede that “something of a dither” is the normal state of Islanders fandom, but this stirred the simmering pot to a boil when it was announced on draft day.)
Clutterbuck is not untalented – he has double-digit goals in his four full seasons before dipping to just four in the lockout-shortened season just concluded. He’s a valued penalty killer, which isn’t always easy to find. Finally, he is just turning 26 in November, so he can be expected to contribute at a peak level for a few more years. However, that peak level is pretty much exactly what everyone sees now. Niederreiter may put it all together in his new surroundings and pot 30 goals a year for ten years.
That isn’t Clutterbuck’s game. He is known far more for rattling bodychecks and being an annoying SOB to opposing scoring threats. This is a useful sort of player, especially when partnered with some offensive touch, but the Isles and their fans certainly hoped for far more when the team chose Niederreiter with the fifth overall pick three years ago. Nino struggled badly in his first go-round in the NHL (1 goal in 55 games, albeit as a 19-year-old), and opened the lockout season with the Isles’ top farm affiliate in Bridgeport.
While in Bridgeport he lit up the AHL, but when NHL camps finally started the Isles chose to leave him in the minors, perhaps thinking it was better for his development and confidence. It backfired – his agent began making “trade my client” noises and Nino’s play tailed off until the recent World Championships, when he helped lead the Swiss team all the way to the medal rounds and their best finish in over half a century. Even during all that, despite Snow’s best efforts (and the man is a master at CommSec), little rumbles came out here and there, usually from Nino’s camp via overseas media: the Isles, it was said, didn’t congratulate him on his success at the Worlds. No, Garth Snow hasn’t talked to him recently. (Usually guys like Eric Cairns or Ken Morrow do that with the prospects.) The trade was a confirmation of some fans’ worst fears: things behind the scenes had probably been deteriorating beyond repair, capped by rumors that the Isles had tried to obtain a sorely-needed goalie and had been rebuffed by both Los Angeles and Vancouver when Nino was part of the return.
Good, bad, or ugly, the trade may have represented the best the Isles could do… and in fact, it looks like the best Minnesota could hope for as well, because they anticipated that Clutterbuck would not fit into their budget when his next contract was due… a concern the Islanders don’t have with all their cap room.
Isles fans may have a different problem. See if you can spot it: