1. First, the question everyone in Buffalo is wondering - will Garth Snow give up his first round pick this year, or next?
I don't see any way they would hand over this year's pick, given their position. To hand the 2014 pick would be tantamount to planning on another lottery finish next season, which ... they're obviously past that rebuild stage of expecting disaster.
2. The Vanek-Moulson trade was a winner in Buffalo, but I would think Isles fans aren't so happy. What's the prevailing thought on how that trade worked out for the Islanders?
There are several camps, actually: Camp One says there was no need to deal Moulson, who actually wanted to stay here (though it's iffy whether they would meet his asking price to stay.) Camp Two says they upgraded at wing and produced one of the best lines in the league while Vanek was here, so it was worth the gamble if Moulson wasn't going to be kept. Camp Three says whatever, we needed a goalie and we didn't get a goalie.
The bottom dropped out of the rental market in terms of flipping Vanek for the hoped-for first-round pick, but they came out okay, albeit adding one more disappointment to a season filled with them.
3. What's the general consensus on Snow? Do you think he'll stick around much longer as GM?
It's funny, because that question is basically moot as long as Charles Wang owns the team. Some are high on his general accumulation of assets and finding bargain values under what is assumed to be a tight budget forced upon him from up top and from the Islanders' paltry revenues, but even his biggest defenders see that he has proven incapable of acquiring a capable goalie. Speaking of which...
4. Aside from botched trades and injury, what went wrong on the Island this year? Wasn't this a playoff team two years ago?
...goaltending got predictably even worse. Evgeni Nabokov, who is already a bottom-third starter at best, aged another year and spent much more of the season injured. Add to that Lubomir Visnovsky's concussion, and they lost a critical variable that made them a playoff team in 2013.
The "botched" trades haven't actually affected the on-ice product this year: Cal Clutterbuck has delivered as expected (while Nino Niederreiter has ironically been bumped down the depth chart in Minnesota), and Vanek was productive while here. So the crime was in the chief area they didn't address over the summer, nor in either trade.
5. What will the Islanders look like next season? Are they planning to contend or tank? Are there any star prospects in the system that might help them next season?
They expected to be back in the playoffs this season and they'll expect the same next season. Add competent goaltending -- instead of the league-worst they've had this year -- and they're in the playoff hunt all season. Have some better injury luck and stop relying on Andrew MacDonald types (check!), and the good young players they have should put them in a competitive position.
In terms of prospects, the blueline pipeline is deep, while the forwards at the pro level are not the issue. Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson have arrived now to increase the Isles' depth down the middle, as has Calvin de Haan and soon Griffin Reinhart (if he makes the roster next season) on the blueline. The main strength Snow has shown -- doing that rebuild thing of acquiring and hanging on to young assets -- is starting to bear fruit. In most cases, that means the *next* GM reaps those rewards, but obviously the Isles aren't most cases.
Address the goaltending -- finally -- and they'll rejoin the middle tier of clubs who think they should be in the playoffs and make noise during seasons where the variables work out their way.