Now that the NHL Draft is over, the Islanders must turn their full attention to avoiding a second consecutive summer defined by the departure of their team captain.
John Tavares infamously bolted for hometown Toronto as an unrestricted free agent last July, and the Isles are moving precariously close to his replacement wearing the "C" - left wing Anders Lee -- hitting the open market. Free agents can begin speaking with other teams beginning Sunday, with the signing period slated to open on July 1.
"I never thought it would get to this point, but I guess it's the nature of what this week means," Lee told Newsday at a charitable function to raise money for children with cancer on Saturday in New York.
Lee also reiterated that his first choice remains staying with the Islanders, who named him the 15th captain in team history in training camp last fall. According to multiple reports from the draft, GM Lou Lamoriello spent several minutes Saturday speaking in the stands at Rogers Arena in Vancouver with Neil Sheehy, Lee's agent. Lee held a cap hit of $3.75 million in 2018-19 in the final year of a four-year, $15 million deal.
"These are career decisions. They can't be taken lightly," Lee said at the same charity event, according to NHL.com. "When you have almost a year to try and figure this thing out, it's hard not to think of every single scenario, and a lot of the scenarios I haven't really enjoyed thinking about."
Lamoriello told reporters Saturday that he had "no response" to Lee's comments, but he stressed the Isles will "do everything we can" to retain their captain.
The 28-year-old winger's production slipped from 40 goals alongside Tavares in 2017-18 to 28 last season. But the spurned Isles improved from 80 points to 103 under Lamoriello and first-year coach Barry Trotz, finishing with the fewest goals against in the league (196) after allowing the most the previous season. They swept Pittsburgh in the opening round of the playoffs before getting swept themselves by Carolina in the second round.
Isles goalie Robin Lehner, a Vezina Trophy finalist and the winner of the NHL's Masterton Trophy for perseverance after going public last year with mental illness issues and an addiction problem, also is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next week. Lehner indicated at the NHL awards ceremony Thursday night in Las Vegas that he also prefers to work out a contract and remain with the Isles.
Potential UFA forwards Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle re-signed with the franchise earlier during the offseason.
"We said from Day 1 we wanted all our free agents back," Lamoriello told reporters Thursday in Vancouver. "Fortunately, two are back. It's our job to try and get the other two back… But those are tough questions for me to answer. Unless something is done, it's not done."
In addition to Tavares' departure last summer, Lamoriello was the general manager of the Devils when stars Scott Niedermayer (Anaheim, 2005) and Zach Parise (Minnesota, 2012) signed elsewhere as free agents.
Veteran forwards Valtteri Filppula and Tom Kuhnhackl also are pending UFAs, while restricted free agents Anthony Beavillier, Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang were extended qualifying offers.
As for this weekend's draft, the Islanders added a few more prospects to their pipeline with five picks, most notably Swedish winger Simon Holmstrom with the 23rd overall selection Friday night. They also chose 6-foot-4 defenseman Samuel Bolduc out of the Quebec junior league with their second-round selection (57th overall), but then didn't pick again until the fifth round. They drafted four forwards and one defenseman among their quintet of picks.
ISLES 2019 DRAFT PICKS
ROUND 1, No. 23 overall
Simon Holmstrom, RW, 18, HV71 (Sweden), 6-1, 192.
ROUND 2, No. 57 overall (via Calgary)
Samuel Bolduc, D, 18, Blainville/Boisbriand (QMJHL), 6-4, 212
ROUND 5, No. 147 overall
Reece Newkirk, C, 18, Portland (WHL), 5-11, 172
ROUND 6, No. 178 overall
Felix Bibeau, C, 20, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL), 6-0, 187
ROUND 7, No. 209 overall
Cole Coskey, RW, 20, Saginaw (OHL), 6-1, 200