What the New York Islanders do next could adversely alter the team's direction

ByJoe McDonald ESPN logo
Wednesday, July 6, 2016

It's already been a busy and somewhat productive offseason for the New York Islanders and general manager Garth Snow, but this organization's future will be determined by what it does this summer.

Forget for a moment that the Islanders lost Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin to free agency on July 1. Also, set aside that the boys from Brooklyn have new teammates in the mix, including Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera and P.A. Parenteau, because the Islanders' blueprint for success is based on franchise player John Tavares.

The 25-year-old star center and captain has two seasons remaining on his contract with the Islanders. He will earn $12 million in that time before he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2018. If the organization is not in a better position as a true Stanley Cup contender by that point, it's a safe bet Tavares will test the market as one of the premier players in the NHL.

A lot can happen between now and then, of course, and the Islanders have certainly made progress, but they have an opportunity to become a perennial playoff contender. It was a huge step for Snow, coach Jack Capuano, and the players to reach the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last season, before they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games.

The new majority ownership of Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky took control of the team on July 1, and quickly released a statement, backing the GM and coach.

"Garth Snow and Jack Capuano, who led the Isles to an exciting playoff run in 2016, have our full confidence," Ledecky wrote. "We commit ourselves to doing what it takes to bring our fans and the team a fifth Stanley Cup, and eagerly await the home opener at Barclays Center on Oct. 16."

A true testament of how close this team is on and off the ice came the day after last season ended. Travis Hamonic, who had requested a trade before last season in order to be closer to his Winnipeg home because of a sick family member, rescinded his trade request and the 25-year-old defenseman wants to remain with the Islanders.

Despite the team's loss to the Lightning, Hamonic's decision to stay was a good way to start the offseason. When free agency opened on July 1, Okposo, Martin and Nielsen signed elsewhere. Those three players were major contributors to the team's success, but Snow was quick to react when he signed Ladd, 30, a two-time Stanley Cup-winning forward; Chimera, who brings a ton of experience, grit and leadership; and the return of Parenteau, who played on Tavares' right side from 2010-12. The Islanders also signed promising 23-year-old restricted free-agent center Shane Prince to a two-year deal worth an average annual value of $850,000.

Still, not everyone is optimistic about the direction of the team. One Eastern Conference GM said in a text message. "he wasn't a big fan" of the moves. "Ladd 7 yrs is crazy. Lost better players to UFA. "

Another Eastern Conference executive wasn't sure the Islanders were closer to contention."Tough call," he wrote in a text. "Typically a conference finals berth signifies true contention."

Like every team, goaltending is key for the Islanders. Thomas Greiss, 30, was the team's go-to guy in the playoffs, and proved to be worthy on that stage. The team recently signed restricted free-agent goalie Jean-Francois Berube, 24, who made his NHL debut with the Islanders last season and will earn $675,000 in 2016-17.

It's likely Snow could trade veteran netminder Jaroslav Halak, 31, who has two years remaining on his current deal worth $4.5 million annually. He suffered a severe groin injury in early March and missed the remainder of the season, and Greiss took over the job between the pipes.

Moving Halak will give Snow much-needed cap relief, even if it means acquiring only a draft pick in return. After beating the top-seeded Florida Panthers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in April, the Islanders proved they are on the cusp of becoming a dangerous team in the Eastern Conference.

Snow still has work to do this offseason, but how things unfold in Brooklyn in the near future will be the key to success for this team.