This playoff-less Islanders season has three games remaining before it ends on Saturday night at Detroit. So the focus already is on what could be a tumultuous offseason, with one of the main questions being the future of captain John Tavares, an impending unrestricted free agent.
Tavares has given zero hints as to whether he’s leaning toward re-signing with the franchise that selected him first overall in 2009 or continuing his career elsewhere after completing a six-year, $33-million deal. Or even if he is leaning one way or the other at this point.
So perhaps it was nothing, but Tavares, 27, referenced the future when asked about rookie teammate Mathew Barzal, a leading candidate for the Calder Trophy, as the Isles prepared for Tuesday’s game against the playoff-bound Flyers at Barclays Center.
“His game keeps getting better and he’s just scratching the surface,” Tavares said. “There’s a lot of excitement in our group for him. Especially a guy with his talent and his drive to be successful, I’m excited to finish the season with him and looking forward to the future.”
That could be a future in which Tavares is an opponent. Still, it was a tiny morsel for anybody seeking to read the tea leaves.
The only future Tavares is really talking about now is this last week of the season, the Islanders’ second straight out of the playoffs. It will be the sixth time in his nine NHL seasons that the Islanders have not qualified.
“It just stinks knowing we’re not playing past this weekend,” Tavares said. “We’re just trying to focus on the positives as much as you can and it’s the last week so we want to go and play hard and play with a lot of pride and get some good results.”
“I think we’re just trying to build shift to shift, period to period. That’s all we can really do,” Tavares said. “Hopefully, we’ll try to get some wins and get some good feelings after the last three games and end on a good note. There’s plenty of time in the offseason and in the coming days and weeks to assess how things went as a team and personally and try to find ways to be better.”
Notes & quotes: Doug Weight was forced to miss Monday’s practice and was not at the team’s facility because of a knee issue. He is expected to be behind the bench on Tuesday . . . Josh Bailey (upper body), who has missed the last two games, participated in practice . . . Absent from practice were Casey Cizikas (upper body), who has missed the last four games, and Cal Clutterbuck, who missed the third period of Saturday’s 4-3 loss in New Jersey after taking an elbow in the first period and needing stitches.