Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
This spring will be the latest in a series that has tested the mettle of the Islanders from top down -- ownership, general manager, head coach and even players are not excluded from the exercise. The spring of 2017 could, however, prove to be the most challenging and defining of all.
We are officially at the end of year-one of the Jon Ledecky/Scott Malkin era of ownership, Garth Snow remains at the helm of hockey operations and Doug Weight, he of 40 games of NHL head coaching experience, was seemingly the only option in a summer that saw at least four others looking for work who had pedigree, and some even Stanley Cups, on their resume.
We covered where the Islanders were this year in our annual season retrospective posted on Tuesday. Now, where exactly are they headed? What are the most pressing issues facing an organization seemingly forever in disarray as we watch the Stanley Cup playoffs begin?
Where will they finally call home?
Will it ever end? It seems as if this talk has been going on for decades and not just the past six months or so. With the relationship between Barclays and the Islanders souring, to put it kindly, talk of a reunion with recently renovated Nassau Coliseum seems a reach -- at best. Bob McKenzie threw more fuel on the fire Wednesday when he said talks seem to be favoring development of their own land and arena at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
Either way, it seems as if Barclays Center, with its soft ice and quirks, will be hosting the Islanders for at least the next two to three seasons. I can't see an arrangement where Gary Bettman allows them to play a season or two in the renovated Coliseum with its limited seating arrangement and lack of luxury amenities. It just wouldn't make much sense. But then again, has anything during this soap opera made much sense? Allow me to help you answer that. Nope.
Move back and you're dealing with the crooks and corruption of Nassau County again. You're again taking mass transit out of the equation as an option for fans to arrive and depart. Not to mention structural issues with the building itself, wrapped in tinfoil or not.
Who will be a part of Weight's staff?
Doug Weight did a fine job taking over for Jack Capuano, leading the Islanders to the second-best record in the entire league after getting the promotion, at 24-12-4. He transformed how head coaches deal with the media by showing candor, humility and taking responsibility, all while holding players accountable. His press conferences were can't miss.
But, let's not forget, it wasn't all roses and sunshine. The powerplay struggles continued and cost the Islanders valuable points that could have gotten them into the postseason. And they continued to be sloppy defensively, allowing five goals or greater in five of their last 12 losses. There was an ugly performance at home against Nashville and a horrendous first period in Philadelphia, among others.
Weight said Wednesday to expect changes to the bench staff, but couldn't say whether it would be "one, two or five" and that he would begin the vetting process immediately with a focus on guys "who want to work, but mostly want to win."
Who he chooses will be crucial to the success of the 2017-18 Islanders.
Expansion draft protection issues
The Vegas Golden Knights, led by general manager George McPhee, will choose one player from each of the 30 clubs and make their roster announcement on June 21. Protected lists will be made available to the media, and subsequently the public, on June 17 by 5 p.m. ET.
Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ladd have no-movement protection and it's hard to see either waiving. By league expansion draft rules, they will have to be part of any list that Snow puts together. Ryan Pulock somehow doesn't gain an exemption and needs to be protected also, even though he has only played in only 16 NHL games. That leaves Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey on defense as the two who could be seen as most vulnerable.
de Haan is coming off his best season as a pro and was the team's best defenseman from start to finish. As an restricted free agent, all he requires is a qualifying offer, making him very attractive to McPhee, who needs to select a minimum number of restricted and unrestricted free agents. Hickey has one year remaining at a very affordable $2.2 million cap hit and has developed into a reliable third-pair blueliner.
The Roster needs a tweak
The free agent market is less than stellar, to put it lightly. It stinks if I'm being completely honest. The best player available, T.J Oshie, is way out of the Islanders' range, likely commanding an Andrew Ladd-type contract or more. No difference makers exist after that, leaving Snow to a volatile trade market as the only way to change the roster one summer after losing Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, and Matt Martin, while replacing them with Ladd and Jason Chimera.
The Isles were close, real close actually, to acquiring Matt Duchene at the trade deadline, and that is certainly an avenue that Snow will want to drive down yet again as the entry draft approaches. But now there will certainly be more teams involved -- the exact situation Colorado GM Joe Sakic hoped for when he held onto his prized asset, along with captain Gabriel Landeskog.
On a team with a superstar surrounded by serviceable, but arguably middle pack forwards, New York needs a major injection of top flight talent to the lineup. Duchene solves the equation nicely, as does someone like Carolina's Jeff Skinner. With the aforementioned expansion draft looming, its possible New York makes their big trade during the playoffs and not at the draft table.
Should I stay, or should I go?
Only one person can correctly answer this question -- captain John Tavares. Entering the final year of his contract on July 1, Tavares has been the face of the franchise since being drafted first overall in the 2009 entry draft. On a ridiculous $5.5 million cap hit, he has amassed 537 points in 587 games, twice going over a point a game and once missing out by one. All the while playing with revolving linemates of varying skill levels.
We all know by now that, despite his ridiculous work ethic and high-end skill, he is a step below the Sidney Crosby's, Patrick Kane's and Connor McDavid's of the world. That doesn't diminish his value to this franchise in the slightest. He is the engine that drives the bus, on and off the ice, and that is a fact that is indisputable and difficult to assign a monetary amount to.
Snow and ownership will start with the extra year afforded to re-signing your own, and let's assume negotiations with agent Pat Brisson will begin in the nine to 10 million dollar range. Is that going to be enough for Tavares to overlook the step back taken by the team this year? The situation at Barclays Center, whether it be the ice, the commute or just the plain uncertainty of it all? He did admit, at locker cleanout, that the ice was responsible for his hamstring injury at the end of the season.
Just your average, run of the mill offseason, right? No problem, right? If these questions aren't answered correctly, there will be plenty of problems -- some maybe too far gone to correct.