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Taking the high road by trading Travis Hamonic likely to cost Islanders

Finding a counterpart who’ll return equal value for Travis Hamonic is going to be a tough task for Islanders GM Garth Snow.

Travis Hamonic wants out of Brooklyn.

It’s nothing against the Islanders. The 25-year-old blueliner reportedly has cited personal/family reasons for requesting a trade to a Western-based team that would allow him to be closer to his Manitoba home.

"I've been treated like gold ever since they drafted me," Hamonic said on Thursday in his first public statement since the story broke. "At the root of all this is a personal family matter of mine that I hold dear to my heart. That’s as far as I’m going to go: It’s a personal family matter."

The kid is clearly in a tough spot. And general manager Garth Snow, to his eternal credit, appears to be willing to accommodate him.

But doing this for the right reasons doesn’t make this difficult situation any easier to stomach. Losing a player who many consider to be New York’s best all-around defenseman as well as one of its emotional anchors is a devastating blow for a team that, after years of struggle, is finally on the verge of becoming a contender.

Hamonic is a mobile, right-handed shot who plays with a nasty physical edge. Though he isn’t a classic top-pairing defender, he is their workhorse. Hamonic averages a team-high 23:20 per game, and while the bulk of that is at even strength—his 20:10 average at five-on-five is eighth in the league—he contributes to both the power play and the penalty kill.

He’s also in the third season of a seven-year deal with a cap-friendly AAV of just $3.875 million.

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That’s a tough player to replace. Understandably, Snow is seeking an equitable and immediate return, not a package of picks and prospects. That means an established top-four defenseman who can step directly onto the Islanders’ blueline.

You can’t blame Snow for asking. But that’s not likely to happen.

The chances for a fair swap swing on an assumption: that somewhere out there is another GM who is willing to make a lateral move to help Snow out of the goodness of his heart.

That guy doesn’t exist.

Hamonic said he's willing to bide his time to help Snow out, and that patience might help minimize the damage. But there’s a trade-off. The longer he hangs around, the more likely this situation becomes a distraction. And with 11 of their next 13 games coming against Eastern Conference opponents, a distraction is the last thing the Isles need. 

A deal then seems likely to happen sooner than later. Even if it means selling Hamonic at a sharp discount.

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At this point, Winnipeg seems like the favorite to land the Manitoba native. The Jets have underperformed this season and while they snapped their recent six-game losing skid they might be amenable to a shakeup. Dustin Byfuglien’s name has been tossed around, but with his contract expiring this summer, and no certainty that ’d be willing to re-sign with the Isles, that’s unlikely to fly. Snow is more likely to target struggling blueliner Jacob Trouba. Given Touba’s upside, that’s probably a non-starter for Winnipeg, but the Jets might be willing to build a package around promising netminders Connor Hellebuyck or Eric Comrie. That wouldn’t address Snow’s immediate needs, but it would fill an organizational hole.

Vancouver has three defensemen—Dan Hamhuis, Matt Bartkowski and Yannick Weber—slated to go UFA this summer, creating a pressing need for a contract-controlled top-four like Hamonic. The Canucks also have a promising netminder to offer in Thatcher Demko, who has posted six shutouts in 10 starts this season for Boston College, or they might convince Snow to settle for Chris Tanev, a defender of lesser value than Hamonic but one who could step in immediately.

The Oilers need a reliable defender like Hamonic in the worst way, but their only movable assets are forwards. That’s not ideal for the Isles, who already have a glut up front, but if former top-pick Nail Yakupov or speedy winger Jordan Eberle are in play, those are options Snow would have to consider.

The Flames have been mentioned as a possible destination, but it’s hard to imagine their interest. Despite their defensive struggles this season, their focus is on acquiring talent up front. The same is true for the Wild, another team that might be geographically desirable for Hamonic.

Wherever he lands, you have to hope that it makes things easier on Hamonic, one of the league’s most admirable citizens. And that the Isles, who are taking the high road here, don’t take too big a hit in the process.

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