The frenzy of Wednesday's moves around the NHL has Islanders fans asking what's next for their club, and justifiably so.
Taylor Hall was dealt to New Jersey, Steven Stamkos came off the board. and Kyle Okposo became probably the most coveted forward about to hit the market. All while the Isles moved a few swing-and-misses on free agents away from being left holding the bag.
I touched on these mounting problems in the wake of the Stamkos signing, and the sobering reality still rings true after a good night's sleep. If the Isles simply re-ink Frans Nielsen and maybe add one free agent -- let's say for argument's sake, Andrew Ladd -- does that make them any better than they were moments after their Game 5 loss to the Lightning? I suspect not, and most fans seemingly agree.
Not to mention the aforementioned scenario has Garth Snow being able to convert on pitches to both Nielsen and Ladd. That won't be easy, since other teams will be in on both of those players, especially now that Stamkos is off the board.
The Red Wings cleared salary like crazy -- trading Pavel Datsyuk in the process -- to make their run at Stamkos, and that money is probably burning a hole in their pocket. The Sabres have a ton of young talent still on entry-level deals, and Tim Murray is telling anyone who will listen they'll be active in the market. And Toronto, Arizona, Montreal, and others are connected to nearly any free agent worth mentioning. Would you really be surprised if both Nielsen and Ladd landed elsewhere?
I think there's a prevailing sense, both within the organization and the fan base, that the Isles have to get better. And for the first time, there's urgency to look outside the organization to do so. With the Ledecky-Malkin era officially underway, and John Tavares seven years deep into his career, the franchise wants a viable Cup contender in a hurry.
The Isles relied solely on the assumption that progression from their young forwards would be enough to supply Tavares with the firepower he needed. And, in fairness to Snow, it resulted in a 100-point season and a playoff series win, even while Ryan Strome took a few hearty steps backward and the team regressed from the possession monster they were in 2014-15.
It's not out of the realm of possibility to think the Isles could be okay just by sprinkling in Nielsen and another piece, relying on their young talent again, and staying financially flexible.
But like I said, the goalposts have moved, and the Isles seem to be aiming to a roster shuffle similar to the Penguins' last summer that ultimately resulted in the most prized possession in hockey returning to Pittsburgh.
So where do they go for help outside the UFA pool? Maybe to the team that ended their Stanley Cup dream just two months ago. Newsday's Art Staple mentioned the Lightning by name is his most recent piece, saying their cap situation, with their mounting UFA and RFA problems, makes them possible trade partners. Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Jonathan Drouin are all RFAs next year, Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov this year, and Ben Bishop and Victor Hedman hit UFA status next offseason.
"Snow may also be scouring the trade market as teams add free agents and have to wrestle with salary-cap issues," Staple wrote. "The Lightning is now tighter to the cap and has some attractive forwards who could be moved, Alex Killorn among them."
That's an intriguing possibility, and maybe it will give Isles fans something else to pine for in the coming days. But as it stands right now, I'm worried that the renovations Snow had in mind might not come to fruition, which could make New York very susceptible to a significant regression this coming season.