The Islanders have far fewer questions swirling around them this offseason than they have in recent years, but that doesn't mean there's nothing to ask as the Isles head off to the summer.
Here are the five burning questions heading into another long Islanders offseason:
Where do the Islanders need to upgrade?
John Tavares came within a few seconds of winning the NHL scoring title and is a Hart Trophy finalist without having consistent linemates throughout the season. He and Kyle Okposo had a strong run through December and January, but Tavares excelled with Anders Lee and Josh Bailey on his wings through February and March with Okposo sidelined.
So a permanent left wing for Tavares might not be a high priority this summer. Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis will be unrestricted free agents who could help the Islanders’ power play and veteran presence, but neither might fit the Isles’ mold going forward. Canucks forward Shawn Mathias is an intriguing UFA with size and is only 27, but he will be in high demand if he gets to July 1.
The Isles’ defensive depth was strained during the playoffs, so general manager Garth Snow certainly could look to add a veteran there, but that would be more of a Matt Carkner type than a top-four player.
The Isles likely would welcome back Michal Neuvirth as Jaroslav Halak’s backup, but Neuvirth likely will seek to challenge for a No. 1 job elsewhere via free agency. Snow could head back to the free-agent market to find Halak’s backup for next season, but the major moves of last offseason won’t be repeated.
Where does Michael Grabner fit in?
The popular winger had a lost 2014-15, playing only 34 games after October hernia surgery and finishing the playoffs as a healthy scratch. He might need further surgery this offseason and is entering the final year of a five-year deal.
When he’s healthy, Grabner adds speed and good defensive awareness to the lineup. With only the one year left at a $3- million salary-cap hit, he could be a trade chip to bring back a player or a draft pick, of which the Isles have precious few this June.
Which young players will challenge for roster spots in September?
Griffin Reinhart, Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield are the team’s three closest-to-ready defense prospects. Reinhart struggled in Game 5 of the Caps series. Mayfield, off the NHL radar all season, played capably in Games 6 and 7.
All three of those young defensemen will get a look in a camp that likely will have at least six Isles veterans under contract, so one of them will have to be very impressive to earn a regular spot.
Michael Dal Colle, the 2014 first-round pick, still is churning through the OHL playoffs with Oshawa, gaining valuable experience. He may be Tavares’ left wing of the future, but at 19 heading into camp, it seems a long shot he’ll be an Islander next season.
What about special-teams changes?
Jack Capuano, Doug Weight and Greg Cronin will be back behind the bench next season, so the responsibility rests with those three to get more consistency in the Isles’ power play and penalty kill.
Cronin adjusted his PK setup in February with the Isles sitting 30th in the league, tightening up the penalty-killers’ play at their own blue line and then playing a triangle-and-one to have more on-the-puck pressure inside their zone.
The power play went 0-for-14 in the playoffs and looked stagnant. If Pulock has a chance to earn a roster spot, it might be through his power- play work. He scored 13 of his 17 goals with Bridgeport on the power play.
So what do the Isles have to do to win a playoff series?
Health certainly plays a role; Travis Hamonic alone could have decided the Capitals series in the Islanders’ favor. The young trio of Ryan Strome, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson seemed a bit overwhelmed at times, so they will grow from this experience. No one outside of Halak came away looking good in Game 7, so that should fuel a lot of offseason workouts.