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Islanders mailbag: John Tavares, Ilya Sorokin, Belmont and more

Islanders center John Tavares looks on before a

Islanders center John Tavares looks on before a face-off against the Predators in a game at Barclays Center on Monday, March 27, 2017. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Newsday’s Arthur Staple answered questions from Twitter followers for his latest Islanders mailbag. Below are blocks of similar questions and his answers.

@willwigleman: what do the Islanders d pairs look like for opening night?

@bootlegrslegacy: Given logjam of forwards (w/ or w/o Barzal) what are projected lines/makes team out of camp/ healthy scratch/sent to bpt/waived?

@lou_seda: do you feel isles will be weak at center? Given the lack of trades or signings this free agency. Can barzal really be a #2 center?

We’ll dive into the difficult questions shortly, but let’s start out with the annual “What’s the opening night lineup going to be?” question in July. It’s always fun to speculate before the coaches get a chance to see what works and who’s working in camp in September.

Here’s my projected lineup for Oct. 6 in Columbus as it stands two months out:

Anders Lee-John Tavares-Jordan Eberle

Andrew Ladd-Brock Nelson-Josh Ho-Sang

Jason Chimera-Mathew Barzal-Josh Bailey

Nikolay Kulemin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck

Nick Leddy-Johnny Boychuk

Calvin de Haan-Ryan Pulock

Thomas Hickey-Scott Mayfield

Jaroslav Halak

Thomas Greiss

Extras: Alan Quine, Adam Pelech, Dennis Seidenberg

This would mean Anthony Beauvillier starts the season in Bridgeport; I could see Barzal starting there if Beauvillier, as expected, plays his tail off in camp. This doesn’t mean the Islanders aren’t making any more moves before September or that they definitely are, just looking at what they’ve got now and trying to make sense of it.

Being away from Tavares certainly decreases Bailey’s productivity, but he is a solid two-way forward. He’s been up and down this lineup for a decade so I think he’d do fine opposite Chimera.

As for the defense, I think Doug Weight will have eight to choose from. Pelech and Seidenberg may not do anything to be left out, and Pulock and Mayfield certainly need to have standout camps, which neither had last year. But the temptation to have lefties and righties in their normal spots could be strong.

@WordsByWonka: Any thoughts on Tyler Johnson on Tampa. Could be a 2nd line center solution if his arbitration number comes in high?

@FreeWheelinRob: Does Garth still have the pieces to make a trade with Duchene?

@Gsrgoten: Since Toronto is in Cap Trouble with the Signing of Marleau, Can you see Garth Snow & #Isles to go after Bozak?

@brianschiazza: assuming Duchene is a no-go, do you feel Snow has a Plan B as far as trade route? A second star still biggest need.

On to the trade market! Matt Duchene is still a member of the Avalanche and word seems to be spilling out that plenty of other potential trade partners are balking at Colorado GM Joe Sakic’s demands. So I would imagine Garth Snow hasn’t closed the door on acquiring Duchene but it would have to be a desperation sell-off by Sakic for it to work for the Isles.

In all the talks surrounding a potential Duchene deal to the Isles, I’d mentioned on Twitter and written that Travis Hamonic was part of the deal. Sakic has been hunting for a left-shot, top-four defenseman since Duchene was rumored to be on the market last November, so obviously Hamonic wasn’t the ideal cornerstone of a package.

But the Islanders don’t have anyone outside of Nick Leddy that fills Sakic’s requirement and the Islanders aren’t trading Leddy. So (as I’ve also written) I don’t think there was ever a deal close to being completed and Snow focused on moving Hamonic for the best return at the draft.

As for Tyler Johnson, the Lightning center who filed for arbitration, I don’t really see where Tampa needs to move him now. They unloaded Jonathan Drouin and now need deals with Johnson and Ondrej Palat; in the short term, they’re fine, cap-wise. Tampa needs cost-controlled young defensemen longer term, so perhaps there’s a deal to be made down the road with one of the Isles’ bevy of young D-men. I doubt any of them could fetch such a return in the near future.

And the Leafs, by all accounts, don’t seem to feel a need to sell off any of their forwards like Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri or James van Riemsdyk. They have a crowded field up front to be sure, but they seem to be hoarding their pieces for a serious run this season. Like Tampa, the Leafs need blue line help and I doubt they’d give up one of their top nine forwards for a young, unproven Isles defenseman at this point.

So the Isles’ Plan B appears to be wait and see. I know, I know. Not what you want to hear.

@Doc__Ad: Since the Sorokin ship appears to have sailed, how do you think the org views their goalie depth? Soderstrom no 1?

@MrDanHu: Why was Sorokin fishing in Colorado but not at the development camp?

The Ilya Sorokin saga is a hard one to figure out. He has a U.S.-based agent who was unaware of the three-year contract Sorokin’s Russia-based agent signed with CSKA Moscow; there was talk Sorokin himself was unaware it was signed until he returned from the above-mentioned fishing trip with fellow goaltender Semyon Varlamov.

As with a lot of doings in the KHL, this one is still a bit of a mystery. What’s known is that Sorokin is definitely in the KHL this coming season and likely on Russia’s Olympic squad, possibly even the starting goaltender; beyond that, we’ll have to see. Pressure to stay may be relaxed a bit if Russia can win gold in PyeongChang in February.

Soderstrom had a nice prospect camp and he certainly stands out as the big fish now with Sorokin’s uncertainty. After this coming Swedish League season, we’ll see if Soderstrom wants to give North America a try full time.

@BaltimoreSpurs: I know it’s taboo for GM’s to go for RFAs,but given the number picks the isles have, why wouldn’t they look at one of the centers?

@GrizzlyLou31: A GM in his right mind wouldn’t do this, but if you could make an offer to any RFA center, which would it be? Draisaitl? Johansen?

There was lots of chatter on the NHL gossip wire that Evgeny Kuznetsov’s massive deal with the Caps was spurred by a possible offer sheet, which would explain the hasty move to unload Marcus Johansson to Jersey soon after. Offer sheets are fan favorites but GMs are incredibly averse to them, worried that once they are in a cap bind the GM they swiped from will pounce.

But, as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said in a recent radio interview, the offer sheet era may be coming. If you have the extra draft picks for compensation, as the Islanders do, the offer sheet starts to become more and more enticing.

And I’d go for Leon Draisaitl for sure.

@fatmanatee: god help us all if this happens, but if JT doesn’t re-sign, who would you aim for in a trade?

@Jschul630: Worst case scenario happens and JT is traded for a big return. Will the team be as bad as islestwitter thinks?

@SanpeteRTU: This off season, to me, is really all about GS doing enough to team to convince 91 to sign; if he does nothing else, IYO he has?

@islesdave: What’s the holdup with the formal talks with Tavares about the extension? is it all about the arena?

There were so, so many more Tavares questions than these, but I wanted a representation of the fans’ (totally justified) anxiety over this situation.

If Tavares says no thanks to any extension at any point this season, I think Snow has to trade him. There’s too much distraction in holding onto him to make a playoff run, and I can’t see how he or his teammates would be able to focus if he’d made it clear he’s out the door.

The trade request is tricky, especially if this all were to happen close to the deadline in February. Snow can ask for whatever he wants — a team’s two best prospects, their first-rounders this year and next, maybe a top-six forward off a roster — but the response would be limited with just a few weeks to go in the season.

I’d say if a trade were to be bargained before the season, it would be two A-level prospects, two draft picks (including one first-rounder) and a roster forward. Just a guess.

The team would certainly sag for a bit, but I doubt it would sink. There are still good young players here. But it wouldn’t improve, not for a little while anyway, and that would be a killer.

Yes, Snow has to show Tavares the Isles want to win. But other than perhaps Tavares’ first couple seasons, have they been trying to lose? If so, they’ve been pretty lousy at it. If Tavares’ decision rests solely on what he sees the GM doing, then he could make up his mind any time he wants. Even with Duchene, this team has to prove itself on the ice; looking at the roster and the prospects on paper doesn’t really matter much now.

And the holdup, I suppose, is Tavares looking at everything he wants to look at. Once he signs this deal, that’s it for quite a while, so no faulting him for wanting to check every corner for information. It’s not just an arena announcement or a trade announcement or contract announcements by other players. It’s all of it and this is a fairly monumental decision — for Tavares, for the Islanders and for all of you.

@AnnekeTweets: Greiss/Halak 1a/1b in goal or do we see something else, do you think?

For the first time in a few years, the goaltending situation seems fairly straightforward. Halak is motivated to play well in the final year of his deal so he can continue his NHL career and Greiss should be motivated to show he can be a No. 1 goaltender, because he wore down last season.

Kristers Gudlevskis and Christopher Gibson both have limited NHL experience, but there’s a safety net there — and it’s where the safety net belongs, in the AHL, unlike the last two Islanders seasons.

@freelancehack: Realistically, when should #Isles fans expect a decision on a new arena, and what happens if Belmont Park doesn’t pan out?

There were many more arena questions as well but I can only give the same answer I’ve been giving for months — Belmont makes the most sense for the team. They have to play somewhere until a new building is ready and the Coliseum isn’t a go as far as the Islanders are concerned.

The public forum for the Belmont site is being held Monday in Elmont. Curious to see who turns out for that and whether anything of consequence comes of it.

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