BUFFALO — John Tavares is officially listed as week to week with his left hamstring injury suffered on Friday night, meaning his regular season is almost certainly over.
And it’s hard to imagine the Islanders could make up the ground they need to over the final five games to pass three teams without Tavares, their guiding light and captain. He leads the Islanders with 28 goals and 39 assists.
“It’s a big challenge at a big time of year,” Doug Weight said following Friday’s 2-1 win over the Devils. “We just need to go and win a game Sunday.”
Without many options at forward, the Islanders chose to recall AHL journeyman Connor Jones, 26, who has five goals and 13 assists in 56 games for Bridgeport this season.
Josh Ho-Sang’s success at the NHL level since his recall might have pointed towards the Isles calling up Michael Dal Colle, the fifth pick in the 2014 draft who has 15 goals and 24 assists in his first pro season. But the Isles, who are now down four regular forwards for the season, chose to shore up the bottom end of their group rather than try and replace Tavares at the top end.
Tavares joins Ryan Strome (broken wrist), Nikolay Kulemin (upper body) and Casey Cizikas (hand) on the sideline for the final week of the season. Tavares was due to have an MRI on Saturday to determine the extent of the damage, suffered when he tried to step past Devils defenseman Steve Santini behind the New Jersey net late in the third, caught his right skate in a rut and took an awkward stride with his left, causing the hamstring injury.
The Islanders kick off a four-game road trip in Buffalo on Sunday afternoon against the Sabres, who will be without former Islander and close Tavares friend Kyle Okposo, who remains sidelined with an illness.
Isles owners still pressing for Brisson?
Two NHL sources told Newsday that Islanders owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky are still interested in bringing Pat Brisson, Tavares’ agent, on board to run the team’s hockey operations despite repeated denials from the powerhouse agent at Creative Artists.
Brisson, who among his clients are Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Evgeni Malkin, was in Barclays Center two weeks ago to meet with Ledecky, ostensibly to hear more about the direction of the organization with Tavares eligible to sign an extension this summer.
The sources said the owners are still keenly interested in having Brisson run the team’s operations above GM Garth Snow. Brisson told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman this week that he wasn’t interested in moving from Los Angeles to Long Island to accept that role, but the owners appear undeterred.
Brisson has no experience on the team side but was strongly considered to be the Penguins GM two years ago before they hired Jim Rutherford.
Even if Brisson isn’t their man, Malkin and Ledecky need the agent on their side as they try to convince Tavares to sign what would be an eight-year deal worth more than $10 million per season. So the talks, and perhaps the wooing, will continue into the offseason.
Asked for a comment on the pursuit of Brisson, the owners told Newsday through a team spokesperson: “The team does not comment on rumor or speculation.”
Ice issue for Tavares?
Cal Clutterbuck was unequivocal after Friday’s game that the bad Barclays Center ice contributed to Tavares’ injury, telling Newsday: “You see a guy’s heel dig in like that, it doesn’t happen other places. It’s something that doesn’t get addressed . . . It was a little worse (than it’s been). It had been a little better the last few games, but not tonight.”
Of all the issues Tavares needs to have cleared up before he decides whether to sign an extension or possibly force a trade, the arena ice wouldn’t have seemed to be near the top of a long list that includes who the GM and coach will be, where the team will call home in a few years and whether the roster can be improved this offseason.
But now, with a season-ending injury possibly abetted by the lousy ice, this may become more of a focal point in talks between Malkin and Ledecky and Barclays Center on altering the team’s lease beyond next season. The captain’s fate may now hang on it.