Players will always say when referring to their contract status during the season that they're "not thinking about that. Just playing the game and that will get worked out in due time".
After the Islanders' 4-0 loss Sunday against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the second round of the playoffs ended their season, there is now nothing but time to think about the uncertain future that awaits some long-time organizational soldiers.
New York was never really in Game 5 but they were in the series. The Lightning showed every reason why they were the Eastern Conference representative last season in the Stanley Cup Final. They know how to close and did a remarkable job in Games 2 and 5 in putting on a clinic that should be videotaped and shown to each team in training camp.
This series was lost by the Islanders in Brooklyn, when they exchanged body blows with the Lightning but could never score the knockout head punch, dropping two coin flip overtime games that really could have gone either way. The defensive mistakes that the Florida Panthers could not take advantage of in the opening round were there for all to see again, with the big difference being a more fine-tuned and opportunistic opponent on the other side.
Victor Hedman completely dominated New York captain John Tavares and with some young relied upon players not getting the job done, that was too much for the Islanders to overcome. Tavares was held to a single goal and single assist in the five games, and had zero points in the last four -- all losses. Brock Nelson was a ghost, Ryan Strome inconsistent at best, and Anders Lee rehabbing a broken leg. Alan Quine had a nice start but faded when the competition ramped up.
And now, it'll be an interesting summer ahead for general manager Garth Snow, assuming he survives this defeat. It'll be one that will not only define his future with the organization -- with new owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky assume control on July 1 -- but where this team is heading moving forward. Will they accept the title of 'best hockey team in New York' and continue to grow? Or does the roster turnover prove to be too much and force the team to take yet another painful step backwards.
Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, Travis Hamonic and Matt Martin have all been mainstays for so long in this organization that it would be downright strange to see them in any other uniform. They have all paid their dues and deserve to be where they are presently, but with three facing unrestricted free agency and one needing to be closer to home due to a painful personal situation, to see them facing uncertain futures with the team on its upswing must be tough to deal with on a personal level. It almost brought Hamonic to tears Sunday while talking to MSG's Shannon Hogan.
"Right now, you're in the moment," Hamonic said. "You spend your whole life dreaming of a chance to win the cup and you don't know how often you're going to make the playoffs and even get to the second round to try and make a run. But we're out and it sucks. I love being an Islander more than anything, it's one of the best things I do in my life. It was a pretty cool feeling in Game 6 when we won that and glad we were able to do that in front of our fans. (Mumbles and sighs).It sucks -- I was really confident in this group, so it's pretty frustrating right now."
Martin echoed a similar sentiment when talking with the media following the loss, preferring to extend the closeness this group has for a little longer. "I haven't (thought about new contract), to be honest with you," Martin said. "This was so much fun this year with this group of guys. I love this team and this group. We wanted to go further than this (sighs deeply). It stings, it's hard. As for the offseason and everything beyond this point, I don't know what the future holds. I've been here a long time, it's a huge honor to wear this jersey. I've loved every second of my time here. Right now, I just want to spend time with the guys and get over this."
Anyone saying this team didn't want to win, try to win or would be 'satisfied' with a second round loss, or who has the preposterous thought that they were outclassed in this series is dead wrong. You don't have to listen to captain John Tavares to tell you that, but for the doubters: "Brutal -- We didn't accomplish what we started out to do. Hard to believe it's over. Tough way to go out. We played some good hockey at times, but let those two games in Brooklyn slip away."
But John, does winning your first playoff round in 23 years take any of the sting out?
"No, not really. What's fresh in your mind is getting knocked out. Disappointing, second round. It was great to clear one of those hurdles, but that's not good enough for us. Expectations are high and we want to go farther than just winning a round."
The players will have their exit interviews and locker clean-out Tuesday morning in Syosset. From that point forward, the men in suits will make the decisions. And those decisions will determine what kind of franchise this ultimately becomes.