TODAY'S PAPER
53° Good Morning
53° Good Morning
SportsHockeyIslanders

It's no longer about rebuilding: It's time for Isles to produce

John Tavares #91 and Kyle Okposo #21 of

John Tavares #91 and Kyle Okposo #21 of the Islanders look on from the bench during the third period of a game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Friday, Jan. 31, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

John Tavares was naming some of the Islanders' leaders the other day, by way of explaining how he has plenty of people to lean on in his second season as captain.

Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey are entering their seventh seasons with the Isles. Tavares is starting his sixth. Travis Hamonic and fan favorite Matt Martin are into their fifth seasons.

"We're young, but we've certainly got enough experience," Tavares was saying. He meant it as a positive, but there's the underlying negative: The Isles' core, the one that general manager Garth Snow built up and around after tearing everything down eight years ago, is getting to the point where success has to be part of the equation.

Snow may have been slow to realize that in the summer of 2013, when the Isles' hard-won playoff appearance and hard-fought loss to the Penguins in the first round led to a summer focused more on retaining two of those core players, Hamonic and Bailey, rather than shoring up weak areas through trades or free agency.

After a 2013-14 season that was not just a disappointment but at times a mess, Snow's bold move to acquire Thomas Vanek for longtime Tavares linemate Matt Moulson, plus a future first-round pick, produced nothing in the standings. It then brought very little return when Snow moved Vanek to the Canadiens at the trade deadline.

Another November/December swoon, this one a 2-13-3 slide, left the Isles looking up at everyone in the Metropolitan Division by Christmas.

Tavares was injured in Sochi for star-studded Team Canada, leaving the already flailing Isles without their only true star for the final 22 games. Okposo's breakout season ended 10 games early with an ankle injury. Bailey and Michael Grabner each went 30-plus games without scoring a goal.

It was a bad year for a franchise that has had too many of them in the past two decades.

But there was no complacency this offseason. Snow added roughly $16 million worth of 2014-15 salary-cap money via trade, for new No. 1 goaltender Jaroslav Halak, and free agency; the training camp that begins on Thursday with conditioning tests will be fuller with NHL-experienced players than any other in recent Isles memory.

"It's a great team to play with, a lot of talented players," said Mikhail Grabovski, who signed a four-year, $20-million deal on July 2. "There's players who can win the games."

That is a must. The Islanders bid farewell to Nassau Coliseum and Long Island this spring after 43 seasons; nothing would please the organization and the long-suffering fans more than to cap it with some raucous playoff games.

Charles Wang is also bidding farewell to majority ownership of the team in 2016, with Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin coming aboard (provided the NHL Board of Governors approves the sale) with a minority stake this season and next before taking control.

That likely means Snow, coach Jack Capuano and the rest of the staff need this team to win now and make the mark Snow envisioned when he selected Tavares first overall back in 2009.

"They're looking to push everyone and they expect more from everyone. That's what the message was at the end of the season, that it wasn't good enough and it's not going to be tolerated," Tavares said.

The impending sale, the impending move, the big summer outlay, the ugliness of last season -- it all adds up to a different kind of training camp for the Islanders.

New York Sports