EAST MEADOW, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — After missing the playoffs for the second straight year, and eighth time in the last 11, the New York Islanders head into the offseason with much work to be done.
The most important task is signing captain John Tavares, who is set to be a free agent this summer.
Tavares has said all along he hopes to be back with the only franchise he’s played for, but doesn’t know what will happen. However, with the season having ended just days ago, he needs to take a breather first.
“Take some time to not even think about hockey for a few days,” Tavares said Monday. “And then prepare for the offseason and training, and obviously the contract will come up here as well.”
Tavares, 27, just wrapped up the final year of a six-year, $33 million contract, and would be the top free agent available July 1. The face of the Islanders since they selected him No. 1 overall in the 2009 draft, Tavares had 37 goals and 47 assists this season, finishing a goal and an assist shy of the career highs he set in 2014-15.
“This is where I hope to be and I’ve stated that,” he said. “Just have to take some time and figure out what I want to do.”
Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky and general manager Garth Snow have both repeatedly said they want Tavares to return, and Snow reiterated that Monday.
“We want to be in a situation where he has the Stanley Cup in his hand, wearing an Islanders jersey, and we want him to retire as an Islander,” Snow said.
Ledecky read a statement in which he declined to address the futures of any player, or the statuses of Snow and coach Doug Weight, saying the team was “committed to long-term success,” and defined that as “competing every year for the Stanley Cup and eventually winning a fifth ring.”
He added: “For the past season, as owners we have failed. We sincerely apologize to our fans. We want to express that our ownership group is totally committed to winning and providing the resources to do just that.”
The Islanders finished 35-37-10 despite getting off to a strong start in which they won 15 of their first 24 games.
However, injuries to defensemen Calvin de Haan and Johnny Boychuk started them on a tailspin in which they lost 30 of their final 45 games (15-24-6).
There were some bright spots, led by Mathew Barzal’s 22 goals and 63 assists that make him the leading candidate for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. Also, Anders Lee had the franchise’s first 40-goal season since Jason Blake in 2006-07, and Josh Bailey had career bests of 18 goals and 53 assists.
Some other things to know as the Islanders head into the offseason:
IMPROVING THE DEFENSE
Finding a way to improve the defense needs to be the second priority this summer — after retaining Tavares. The Islanders finished eighth in the league in scoring with 261 goals, but gave up a league-worst 293. They were also last in shots allowed and penalty-killing,
Nick Leddy had an unseemly minus-42 rating, the league’s worst since Pittsburgh’s Rico Fata (minus-46) in 2003-04. Calvin de Haan was lost for the season in December and is also set to be free agent. On the bright side, Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech, both 23, established themselves as solid young defensemen.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier, both 20, formed a solid second line with Jordan Eberle, 27, combining for 180 points to complement the top line of Lee-Tavares-Bailey (217).
Eberle had 25 goals and 34 assists in his first season in New York, and Beauvillier had a breakout second season in the NHL with 21 goals and 15 assists.
WHO’S IN GOAL?
Thomas Greiss is the only goalie signed for next season, with Jaroslav Halak set to be an unrestricted free agent. Greiss dealt with an injury down the stretch and finished 13-8-2 with one shutout and a 3.82 goals-against average.
Halak was 20-26-6 with a shutout and a 3.16 GAA in the final season of a four-year deal. The 32-year-old had a solid first season, going 38-17-4 with a 2.43 GAA in 2014-15, but totaled just 50 wins the last three years.
With the Islanders having made the playoffs just four times in 12 years since Snow was hired as the GM, he was asked if he deserved to stay on the job.
“Yeah,” he said. “When I took over this position it was a situation where it was an all-out rebuild. … Now we’re in a situation where we feel we can compete for a Stanley Cup.
“You can go through the lineup and have a pretty common theme of successful stories of where we’ve built through the draft. And I think our prospect pool at this point in time is impressive as well.”
HOME AND HOME
The team’s struggles this season were punctuated by losses at Barclays Center, where they were 59-26-16 since moving to the Brooklyn arena before the 2015-16 season.
However, they lost 15 of their final 22 games there to finish with a losing record on home ice for the first time since 2013-14.
Now, the Islanders will be splitting home games between Barclays Center and the Nassau Coliseum — their former home — for at least the next three seasons until a new arena is built at Belmont Park.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)