Opportunity has turned to uncertainty for the Islanders, who will gather Tuesday for exit interviews and goodbyes following Sunday’s elimination at the hands of the Lightning.
Who knows what the team will look like when it convenes again in September for a training camp that already will be a bit fractured, with John Tavares playing for Canada in the World Cup and current Isles Frans Nielsen and Jaroslav Halak part of Team Europe.
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“I don’t think we really know the chance we had, with [Steven] Stamkos and [Anton] Stralman out for them,” Nielsen said Sunday.
They know full well about the uncertainty. Here are five questions awaiting answers for the Islanders this offseason.
Where will the free agents land?
Kyle Okposo is the biggest name among the Isles’ pending unrestricted free agents, but losing any one of Okposo, Nielsen or Matt Martin would alter the team’s core.
Sources from the Islanders and Okposo’s camp maintained all season long that there have been no talks of any substance regarding a contract for the 28-year-old Okposo, who stands to be the second-most coveted UFA forward behind Stamkos on July 1. There are still seven weeks until free agency begins, but there would need to be a drastic change from both sides to see Okposo stick around in his home-run FA summer.
Nielsen, 32, is the longest-serving Islander and one the Islanders would like to lock up, though he’s looking at possibly doubling his $2.75-million average annual salary.
Martin, 27, is the sort of presence many teams would covet (and possibly overpay for) should he reach the open market. If he could command close to $3 million a year, he’d have to take a discount to stay where he’s possibly the most popular Islander in the Long Island community.
Does anyone else need a new contract?
Ryan Strome, Casey Cizikas, Shane Prince and J-F Berube are all restricted free agents, though only Cizikas is looking at a big pay bump from his $1-million salary. Prince and Berube do have arbitration rights, but Strome is coming off his entry-level deal and a disappointing season, so he may take a one-year contract for less than a million and bet on a big rebound next year.
Where is the Travis Hamonic situation?
We may hear some discussion of it when Hamonic addresses reporters Tuesday, but his emotional words after Sunday’s game — “I love being an Islander,” he said — may be all we hear for now.
Hamonic has refused to discuss his preseason trade request since it went public in November and general manager Garth Snow was unable to find the right deal.
Snow may never find that deal, even if Hamonic’s request is repeated before he departs Tuesday. The 25-year-old defenseman has four years left at $3.86 million per year and no leverage to make a deal happen.
Who’s in goal?
Thomas Greiss played capably in the playoffs, helping to win the opening round although he didn’t do quite enough to stave off the Lightning. Halak has two years left on his deal, though his season was forgettable, filled with injuries and a lack of goal support.
And then there’s Berube, who sat patiently nearly all season and needs to play next season. Snow has a decision to make, and it could mean trading Halak for very little in return or trying to find a deal for Berube, whom the organization likes quite a bit.
When do Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin take over from Charles Wang?
That comes July 1, the same day free agency begins. Snow and his staff have to execute the draft, possible trades and a whirlwind of roster moves heading into July 1. So there’s basically zero chance that Ledecky and Malkin make any front-office changes right away, or else the franchise’s offseason is ruined.
There’s no official word on Jack Capuano and his coaching staff, but indications are there are no changes coming this summer. Continuity has been important to Snow through the leaner years, so now, with a modest amount of success this season, it’s unlikely he’ll make changes ahead of a big summer and an ownership transfer.