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Revisiting the Islanders’ 2014 Offseason and Why It Matters Now

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Michael Dal Colle, New York Islanders
Michael Dal Colle, the Islanders fifth-overall pick in 2014.

The NHL Draft is just 10 days away, and free agency is 13 days away. The New York Islanders are expected to be at least moderately active, considering the team seems to be at a crossroads. It’s not the first time in recent memory the team has been here, either.

Back in 2014, the Islanders were also staring at a crossroads, and the 2024 offseason could have as many ramifications as the 2014 offseason.

The 2013-14 Season and Thomas Vanek

The extensive rebuild under General Manager Garth Snow began to bear some fruit. John Tavares was as good as anyone could’ve hoped, and Kyle Okposo put together his best statistical season as an Islander.

The season itself, however, was a massive disappointment. Snow made the biggest deal of his tenure, dealing Matt Moulson, a protected 2014 first-round pick, and a 2015 second-round pick for Thomas Vanek. Like Moulson, Vanek was a pending UFA at the season’s end.

Vanek was good as an Islander, scoring 44 points in 47 games. It didn’t matter. He wouldn’t re-sign. While playing at the Olympics in Sochi, Tavares sustained a season-ending knee injury. At the trade deadline, Snow retreated, dumping Vanek and a fifth-round pick for a second-round pick in 2014 and Sebastian Collberg.

There was a lot of egg on Garth Snow’s face after giving up a first-round pick, a second-round pick, and a fifth-round pick, essentially for Collberg and a second-round pick.

The first-rounder from the trade slid to 2015, as the Islanders finished in the lottery.

The 2014 NHL Draft, Fifth Overall Pick

After acquiring and signing Jaroslav Halak prior to the draft, the Islanders held the fifth overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The Islanders watched the top four go: Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart (brother of then-current Islander Griffin), Leon Draisaitl, and Sam Bennett.

The Islanders were on the clock. Everybody knew the Islanders would draft a forward here, especially because the team needed a big-time scoring winger who could ideally make the team within two or so seasons. The top players available included Michael Dal Colle, Jake Virtanen, Nikolaj Ehlers, and William Nylander.

The consensus at the time was that Dal Colle was the best of the bunch, so Snow went with the chalk and selected him over the other options. In hindsight, Dal Colle is a painful pick for the Islanders, especially with Nylander and Ehlers going soon after. Kevin Fiala went 11th overall, but he was never in the discussion.

Ehlers is currently a top trade target for the New York Islanders. In a wild twist of fate, one wrong of the 2014 offseason may be remedied a decade later.

Trading up for Josh Ho-Sang

Late in the first round, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Islanders struck a deal. The Islanders acquired the 28th overall selection in exchange for picks 35 and 57, both of the Islanders’ second-rounders.

The Islanders selected Joshua Ho-Sang. Ho-Sang fell down the draft boards despite some purported immense talent due to what was reported by the Toronto Sun as a disconnect between the player and NHL Franchises, who questioned his skill and demeanor, and reportedly, plenty of teams balked at him.

The Islanders rolled the dice, betting on his electric skill taking over and silencing doubters. One pick later, the Kings selected Adrian Kempe. Ouch.

Ho-Sang, despite his eye-popping talent, never caught on. He had flashes, but nothing consistent. Kempe has scored 104 goals in the last three seasons.

Round Three

The Islanders’ next pick was number 65 overall in the third round. Snow traded the pick, acquiring the Panthers’ 2015 third-round pick. That moved the Islanders to pick 78, which they acquired from Philadelphia at the deadline in exchange for Andrew MacDonald.

The Islanders selected Ilya Sorokin, a total knockout pick. But it is worth noting that the next pick was Brayden Point, who headed to the Lightning. What a pair of third-round picks. The Islanders still had two fourth-round picks despite trading one away to Washington. They were picks 95 and 108.

Remaining Draft Choices in 2014

Pick 95 was used on Linus Soderstrom, another goaltender. Soderstrom’s stock rose after his selection, and there was a small window when it seemed he could be a legit player. However, injuries wrecked his development, and he left the organization to return to Sweden, where he still plays now. It hurts solely because Igor Shesterkin was picked later in that very same round.

Devon Toews was pick 108, another home run hit by Snow and the scouts. It started a run of actual NHL players going almost every other pick, with some names including Viktor Arvidsson, Danton Heinen, Michael Bunting, and Gustav Forsling, who went early in the fifth round.

The Islanders only had a sixth-round pick left and used it on Kyle Schempp. Schempp played some games for Bridgeport but left the organization in 2017-18 and seemingly stopped playing professionally after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Final Post Draft Moves

The Islanders 2014 draft class is perhaps the most frustrating of any. Imagine a world where the Islanders selected Nylander and Kempe instead of Dal Colle and Ho-Sang. Or even just one of those being different. Maybe it’s Ehlers for Dal Colle or Kempe instead of Ho-Sang.

It’s a hard look back for the Islanders, where those misses could genuinely be the difference between having a Stanley Cup and not.

The off-season continued to be one of change, with the Islanders making a splash on July 1st after years of bargain-bin diving, spending more significant money, and signing Nikolay Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski. Then, on the eve of the season, the Islanders swooped in like thieves in the night and acquired Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk from the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins, as those teams desperately needed to shed salary.

From 2014 to Today

The effects of the 2014 off-season, in particular, continue to affect the Islanders directly. The Islanders turned Leddy into Aatu Raty, a crucial part of the Bo Horvat trade. Ehlers is available for trade, and the Islanders are likely interested.

The top four picks of the 2014 NHL Draft will play in Game Five of the Stanley Cup Final tonight, while Michael Dal Colle plays in Germany.

Adrian Kempe is one of the best players and scorers for the LA Kings, while Josh Ho-Sang just won the ECHL Title with the Florida Everglades.

Ilya Sorokin is the Islanders’ present and future. The team ultimately goes as far as he can take them. He is signed for eight more years.

Devon Toews was traded to the Colorado Avalanche for two second-round picks in 2020 after the salary cap froze, and the Islanders could not afford to extend him. He’s since won a Stanley Cup with the Avs while becoming the perfect partner for Cale Makar. The Islanders used one of the two picks to draft Calle Odelius, while the other pick was sent to Arizona to purge the Islanders of Andrew Ladd’s contract.

Mikhail Grabovski couldn’t stay healthy with the Islanders, so the team gave the brand-new Vegas Golden Knights a first-round pick in 2017 to take on his contract. That pick became Erik Brannstrom, whom Vegas traded as the main piece of the 2019 Mark Stone trade. The Islanders were heavily rumored to be the runner-up for Stone. Brannstrom became the piece that helped push Vegas over the line, along with the rich contract extension they handed to Stone.

Final Thoughts

Entering that 2014 offseason, everyone knew moves were imminent. The team had just failed, and it was time to make some changes and build upon the healthy parts of an emerging core.

One decade later, the Islanders face another crossroads. Long-tenured players like Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Anders Lee could move on. The Islanders need to add scoring on July 1st or before then via trade. The team has draft picks to decide whether or not to keep.

Perhaps in another decade, Islanders fans will look back at the 2024 offseason that kick-started the next Islanders wave of contention, just as the 2014 one had.

Or, they will view it as one in which the team didn’t do enough and sowed the seeds for a descent into a long and painful rebuild, missing the opportunity to build around Sorokin, Mat Barzal, Noah Dobson, and Bo Horvat.