Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
BUFFALO -- Jack Capuano said he wants to see a little more effort from the few veterans still left on the active roster for Sunday's season finale here.
"I would hope they're aware," Capuano said of the evaluations he, his coaching staff and general manager Garth Snow are performing on what remains of the team that muddled through this lottery-bound season. "I would hope they know they're still being watched closely, because obviously this season wasn't good enough."
So who will still be an Islander when the team convenes in September for the 2014-15 season? Who is on the bubble? Here are educated analysis/guesses on what the team may look like next season:
As long as Charles Wang controls the Islanders, Garth Snow is his man as general manager. Despite the negotiations of late -- and it’s believed that Wang is hoping for other suitors besides Philadelphia wealth manager Andrew Barroway to be involved- - nothing seems imminent, so Snow isn’t going anywhere.
Snow told Newsday earlier this week he would address any team issues after the season ends, so there is no indication what he will do about Capuano and his assistants. Snow and Capuano are close and Snow has been much, much quicker to take the heat regarding the team’s failures this season than lay blame on the coaching staff. Some veterans feel the same.
“This is the same group that got us to the playoffs last season,” Matt Martin said. “You can’t put this season on them.”
John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, Cal Clutterbuck, Michael Grabner, Martin, Casey Cizikas, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Colin McDonald, Eric Boulton, Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey, Matt Carkner.
That’s 15 skaters out of 21 roster spots, which may seem like a lot to those who feel this team needs to be detonated down to the bedrock and restarted. Of all the failures of this Islanders team — the penalty kill that has hovered well below 80 percent efficiency, the long stretches without goals from anyone not on the top line, goaltending, team defense — the biggest one was its inability to hold leads, especially two-goal leads.
The Islanders gave up 15 two-goal leads this season and went 2-6-7 in those games. Would they be a playoff team if they’d won, say, 10 of those instead of two? Hard to say with Tavares out for so long. But at least this team, without much change from last season’s, would be in the playoff conversation.
Anders Lee, Brian Strait, Lubomir Visnovsky, Josh Bailey. Lee needs a new contract and that could be problematic, but he would appear to have found a home on one of the top three lines next season. Strait and Visnovsky are coming off injuries; Strait may find himself pushed out of the top six by young players and Visnovsky can’t yet be counted upon due to missing 58 games with concussions.
Bailey is a different case, with four years and $14.3 million still left on his deal. Snow has to determine whether Bailey, still only 24, can be a reliable contributor when it matters or whether it’s best to try and move him.
In talking to people in the organization about Bailey, Okposo’s name comes up often. Plenty of fans were ready to move on from Okposo, another former first-rounder, before his awakening at the end of last season. Perhaps the Isles feel Bailey is still young enough to become the player they hoped he’d become when he was selected ninth overall in 2008.
Evgeni Nabokov, Matt Donovan, Kevin Czuczman, Scott Mayfield, Griffin Reinhart. Nabokov has a good chance to be back as the veteran backup in goal, a role that hasn’t been effectively filled for a long while. Donovan, Czuczman and Mayfield have all gotten looks, ranging from lengthy to brief, over this season to see if any of them can grab a spot next season. All have had their moments, good and bad, but it still appears that Reinhart has the inside track on a regular spot next season. The 20-year-old defenseman likely will have a job to lose in September with those others in line behind.
A top-line left wing, a veteran defenseman, a No. 1 goaltender. The last of these three is Snow’s top priority. Do the Isles need another veteran scorer to mesh with Tavares? There should be at least a few reasonably priced veterans who want to benefit from Tavares’ skill, Calgary’s Mike Cammalleri chief among them. And if Snow believes he needs something more on defense to anchor all that youth, there could be some short-term options out there, or a bigger splash among restricted free-agent defensemen who may be priced out elsewhere.