The immediate task for the Islanders was the Capitals on Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum and a chance to match them for first place in the East Division.
This summer’s expansion draft for the NHL’s 32nd franchise, the Seattle Kraken, is still in the distance.
Yet while the players may not be dwelling on the what-ifs or the what’s to come — plus knowing every offseason brings changes — the fact that the Islanders must lose a player to the new franchise does add a hint of urgency to this season’s quest for the Stanley Cup.
The Islanders reached the Eastern Conference final last season for the first time since 1993 and are in the third season under president and general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz.
"I think the urgency is going to be there, regardless," Jordan Eberle said. "We definitely have an older team and we want to win now. Lou has said it. Barry has said it. You’ve heard the players say it. That’s our goal, to win right now. As far as the expansion draft, you’re always going to lose players, offseasons are funky like that. You’re going to lose guys to free agency, you’re going to lose them to the expansion draft, trades, whatever it may be.
"But I can say, from the group, we enjoy playing with each other. We’ve been doing it for three years and every guy in the locker room likes each other. We want to win together and we definitely have the initiative to do it right away."
The Kraken will select one player from every team other than Vegas, which entered the NHL in 2017 and lost to Trotz’s Capitals in the Cup Final in its first season. The Kraken will select 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies.
Teams can protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters (forwards and defensemen) and one goalie. All players who decline to waive no-movement clauses must be protected. Players with no-trade clauses can be exposed.
"It doesn’t change a whole lot," Josh Bailey said. "It’s still a ways away. Changes happen in the offseason and I’m sure this summer will be no different."
Both Eberle, who has a modified no-trade clause, and Bailey would have to be protected by the Islanders. Bailey, the longest-tenured Islanders, is in the third season of a six-year, $30 million deal. Eberle is in the second season of a five-year, $27.5 million contract.
But while both are valuable, top-six wings, Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello could decide it’s more valuable to dangle either to the Kraken and try and delete one of their cap hits.
The salary cap will remain flat at $81.5 million next season and the Islanders already have $68.9 million committed to 18 players.
Casey Cizikas, concluding a five-year, $16.75 million deal, is an impending unrestricted free agent. Top-pair defenseman Adam Pelech, ending a four-year, $6.4 million deal, is an impending restricted free agent with arbitration rights. So is emerging goalie Ilya Sorokin, who is playing his rookie season on a one-year, $2 million deal.
Both RFAs will be seeking significantly more money.
For now, those are issues for another day.
"I don’t think it plays into anything, quite frankly," coach Barry Trotz said. "If you’re a player and you’re counting numbers and you’re going, ‘I wonder if I’ll be one of those guys? I’m a bubble guy.’ You might have a thought about it. But, really, it has almost zero effect on what we do, how they think and how they play at this moment, anyways."