The uncertainty will undoubtedly become more prevalent the closer it gets to the NHL trade deadline on March 21. Because, chances are, there will be some changes to this tight-knit Islanders group with the playoffs seemingly out of reach.
The Islanders continue their six-game homestand against the Blue Jackets on Thursday night at UBS Arena, the start of a back-to-back with the Jets coming in on Friday. They sat a nearly insurmountable 21 points out of the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot at the start of Wednesday’s play.
"I don’t think it’s any different than any year in the sense that we’ve been through this kind of thing before," captain Anders Lee said. "It is a close group and you never want to see someone leave the room. That’s part of what we have to go through as players and professional hockey players. But we’re going to do our best to keep this thing rolling and see it through."
Still, speculation will continue to center on impending unrestricted free agents Cal Clutterbuck, Zach Parise and defensemen Andy Greene and Zdeno Chara, as well as goalie Semyon Varlamov, who has become the backup to Ilya Sorokin but with a $5 million salary-cap hit. Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello may also have other players he is looking to deal.
"You try to go over as a coach slash friend, or a dad, ‘Hey, this is probably the reality and is it bothering you?’ " coach Barry Trotz said. "You just have that conversation. Because there is a human aspect. There are families involved. There are emotions involved. You just try to support the player."
The difference for the Islanders, who did not practice on Wednesday, is they’re expected to be sellers after looking to add to their roster for a playoff push as they did the previous three seasons under Lamoriello and Trotz.
"The rumors are out there all the time and the guys are smart," Trotz said. "They know their contract status. They know the rumors. They can feel it in the room if there’s something happening or their agents are in contact with Lou.
"The one thing that Lou is very good at is, if he’s going to do anything, he usually thinks about the human side and he will go to that player and say, ‘What do you think?’ He understands that aspect. But he also understands the business part, too."
Lamoriello, in a private interview with Newsday and one other media outlet on March 1, said he had yet to decide whether he would be a seller. But Monday’s 5-4 loss to the NHL-leading Avalanche — the Islanders gave up four straight goals in the third period to fall behind 5-1 before rallying late — illustrated the gap between them and the league’s top teams.
Specifically, the Islanders’ game is often not quick enough to keep up.
"Right now, I don’t sense that any of that is weighing on too many guys, that’s for sure," Trotz said of the approaching trade deadline. "So we’ve just got to play."