What happened today has never happened before in the National Hockey League. A player of superstar caliber abandoned the team that drafted him in free agency to return to his hometown to play for his boyhood team. The Islanders and their fans were on the receiving end of this embarrassing piece of news today as John Tavares left the Islanders for the greener pastures of Toronto. He took no more money than was offered here, and signed for less term. It was quite the slap in the face, something the organization hasn’t experienced, and quite frankly, deserved. He was treated like first class, he was given the captaincy, and a multitude of reasons to stay on Long Island, among others. If responded to incorrectly, this decision can put the team back years in its progress. Luckily, there’s a way out of this.
Breath, relax, put down your phone, turn off the TV, count to ten. The team wasn’t moved to Kansas City. It’s ok. Let’s be informal for a few minutes, let’s be speculative, let’s think out loud. The Islanders still have a few things going for them despite the news. The Isles now boast the largest salary cap in the NHL. It gives us the most freedom to sign and trade for players. We predicted last year that guys like Halak, Kulemin, possibly de Haan, and others may have to leave, they did. We hoped that JT would stay, he didn’t. That’s over $10 million more per season that the Islanders have available to use on whatever they want, be it defense, goaltenders, or offense. We also have one of the best prospect pools in the league. Noah Dobson and Oliver Whalstrom are two quality prospects, and they are among the many that may soon don the Islanders crest. Few teams have this much young talent. Mathew Barzal is also only 21. Tavares was right, this team has a good future ahead of it.
Although the Isles have a lot of prospects, the team does lack center depth. Nelson seems to be a career third line center, and he can play well with guys like Andrew Ladd and Leo Komarov. It can be a shut down, “in your face”, hard working line. Barzal will now center the top line with likely Beauvillier and possibly Ho Sang on his right. Eberle would seem to be the candidate to slot down to the second line center position and play with Bailey and Lee. He’s played center before and these combinations would round out the top 9 forward group. We signed Valtteri Filppula who, if needed, can fill the second line center position. This is without sacrificing draft picks via offer sheets or trades. Should the season turn ugly, tanking would be an option as projected first overall pick Jack Hughes is already being likened to Connor McDavid. Some players that have been signed by the Islanders are also on one-year contracts, perfect for trading at the deadline should the team be in bad shape.
The Islanders defense could also be on the upswing. For now, de Haan still doesn’t have a new team, and the Islanders may very well bring him back. Hickey was also given a new contract, and he will likely play on the third pairing with Adam Pelech or whoever makes the team out of camp. The top four remains the same as the beginning of last year with Leddy and Boychuk on the top line, and de Haan and Pulock on the second. Also, don’t rule out a potential trade. Ryan Suter was asked to submit a no trade list, and with all the cap space available to the Isles, he may be an Islander. Erik Karlsson, unfortunately, is all but a Golden Knight at this point, although the Isles are in the mix. If Lou is feeling ambitious, he may even think of getting Eric Staal from Minnesota as well, allowing Eberle to play on Barzal’s wing again instead of at center.
From one Islanders fan to another, I’m upset, I’m angry. I feel like my best friend just left to go hang out with the “cool kids.” I feel overlooked. I feel unappreciated. But if that’s how I feel, imagine how the Islanders players feel. Forget Vegas, these guys have chips on their shoulders. Their captain, who said that he loved playing with them, just left them for less money and term to return to his boyhood team, to hockey’s capital city, Toronto. Because they’re so much better than us, right? Well, why don’t we show him exactly who’s better. We’ll see you in the playoffs John, as well as in the final home game of the year, which just happens to be in Nassau Coliseum. I can’t wait for revenge.