While the playoffs are ongoing, many teams have already started their offseason planning. What storylines lie ahead around the league? Our Offseason Keys series continues with a look at the New York Islanders.
While the season for the Islanders started on a high note, especially on offense, the New York Islanders came back to earth in the second half as the Islanders limped to the finish line knowing they had no chance to compete for a playoff spot. Injuries to the defense as well as goaltending troubles haunted them for much of the year.
Sign John Tavares
Perhaps when the team was winning early on and the offense was one of the best in the NHL or when the team won their bid on the Belmont properties and started plans to build a new stadium there, the Islanders might have felt confident about re-signing star center John Tavares. However, after one stretch in which the team won just 17 of 55 games, the star may be ready to move on to a team that has a better shot at being making the playoffs on a more continuous basis.
Regardless, the Islanders didn’t even consider the idea of trading Tavares at the trade deadline to a point that there were few to no rumors flying around at that time. Do they have an idea that he has always intended to sign? Or is the team just hoping he will return to the franchise?
While most experts are starting to believe that Tavares is likely to move on, it also wouldn’t be that surprising if he opted to sign a long-term, maximum deal and stay on Long Island for the rest of his career. Regardless of his decision, the Islanders will either move forward with him or without him, then placing Mathew Barzal at the forefront of the franchise.
Upgrade their defense
The Islanders had few positives when it came to their defense. Looking like geniuses when they traded veteran Travis Hamonic to the Calgary Flames for a boatload of draft picks, the Islanders defense then faltered when Johnny Boychuk and Calvin de Haan went down with injuries for large chunks of the season. Instead, the Islanders found themselves with few top-four defensemen for much of the season and struggled giving up goals.
While some of the goaltending play can be blamed as well, the defense is what struggled and with a number of their blueliners hitting unrestricted free agency, including de Haan and Thomas Hickey, the team has a few decisions to make as well as have to figure out how to upgrade it. Boychuk, when healthy is a solid top-four defender, but at age 34 and four years remaining on his contract at $6MM AAV, how much can they count on him? The team needs to either move some of its picks in trades for top veterans or sign some key free agents to fill some of those gaps.
Find their goaltender
While the Islanders are finally free of starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak’s long deal and are unlikely to bring him back, the next question is where do they go to find a new starting goaltender. While they do have two talented prospects in Ilya Sorokin and Linus Soderstrom, neither is an answer for this upcoming season. Sorokin has already said he doesn’t intend to sign with the Islanders under entry-level contract conditions, while Soderstrom is coming off season-ending surgery at the beginning of 2018. Neither would likely have been ready to jump into the NHL anyway.
That will force the team to either trade for a goalie, such as Washington’s Philipp Grubauer, or more likely find a stopgap solution on the free agent market, although the free agent goalie market is quite weak this offseason. Players such as Carter Hutton or Robin Lehner aren’t sure things. The team had some success with AHL goalie Christopher Gibson, but he eventually struggled as well. The team does still have Thomas Greiss under contract for two more years, but that isn’t a better option.