John Tavares' season-ending knee injury suffered in the Olympics is cause for plenty of emotional reactions:
Sadness, disgust, resignation.
Islanders fans are right to cry, "Us? Again?"
One reaction that this blow does not warrant, though, is panic. The 2013-14 Islanders' season already was a profound disappointment before Tavares went down. Barring a true miracle in the final 22 games without their star, the Isles are headed for a sixth bottom-five finish in the last seven seasons.
So what happens now?
1 SELL THE REMAINING ASSETS Not that general manager Garth Snow would have been approaching the March 5 trade deadline any differently had Tavares returned from Sochi intact, but the urgency to get something back for pending free agents Thomas Vanek and Andrew MacDonald may have just been turned up a notch or two.
The best-case scenario for trading those two players likely is a first-round pick and two prospects for Vanek and a first-round pick for MacDonald.
The Islanders aren't in a position to be coveting first-rounders, not with a relatively weak draft and their need to improve quickly for next season.
But adding two late first-round picks to go with a top-five pick of their own -- the Islanders traded their 2014 first-round pick in the package to get Vanek, but they might opt to send their 2015 first-rounder instead if the pick this June is in the top 10 -- will allow Snow to maneuver on draft day.
2 PLAY THE KIDS
Ryan Strome will be back from Bridgeport, possibly to step into Tavares' No. 1 center spot. Anders Lee, currently leading the Sound Tigers with 21 goals, likely will get his first look in the NHL this season.
Matt Donovan likely will get a call as well if and when MacDonald is moved. Griffin Reinhart's Western Hockey League season might not end until April, but once it does, get the 2012 No. 4 pick in as well.
And it's up to Jack Capuano -- who enjoys coaching and teaching younger players as much as any coach in the league -- to put all of his green youngsters in positions to work out the nerves and kinks. The Islanders need to win games as long as they're still mathematically alive, but they also need their young players to get some experience if they're going to contribute next season.
3 LAY DOWN THE LAW Without Tavares, and without Vanek soon, there's no true top line anymore. Which should, in theory, allow Capuano and his coaching staff to mix and match however they see fit. Ice time no longer should be a given for anyone, especially a group of forwards that has massively underperformed behind Tavares.
Capuano's job is certainly in jeopardy, so why not change an approach that hasn't worked so far?
4 WIN THE SUMMERWhile Tavares is rehabbing beyond the April 13 season finale in Buffalo, it's time for Snow and his staff to have a banner offseason. Last summer featured, in hindsight, far too much comfort with the team's defense, which has allowed a league-high 200 goals. Snow made offers for Cory Schneider and Ben Scrivens that were rejected, then couldn't get the goaltender he wanted in free agency when Ray Emery chose the Flyers.
5 AND THEN . . . ?With the Brooklyn move looming and what's certain to be dissatisfaction from owner Charles Wang, who said this past September that last season's playoff run was "a year behind schedule," the Islanders need to right the ship.
Armed with a few extra high-round picks from the assumed trades mentioned above, Snow will be in a position not to be outbid for any coveted young players who may be dangled as July 1 draws closer. Unrestricted free agents may spurn the Islanders, but there will be plenty of teams unable or unwilling to keep restricted free agents seeking bigger deals. The Canadiens' P.K. Subban, a good friend of Tavares', would lead the list of younger talents seeking top dollar this summer.
That may be the best route for Snow to take to find a new wingman for Tavares and, in the case of Subban or the Leafs' Jake Gardiner, a more electrifying element on defense. Snow has the assets in addition to picks to get a big deal done, and his October deal for Vanek showed he's willing to break out a bit to try to shake up the roster.
The Islanders will need a No. 1 goaltender this offseason. As of now, Ryan Miller, Jaroslav Halak, Jonas Hiller, Emery and Anton Khudobin look like the top unrestricted free-agent goaltenders.
Snow has to emerge from the first week of July with one of these guys to set the bar higher on the back end heading into next season.
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