The Islanders Are Making Noise In Early Off-Season
It's been a very busy week for the New York Islanders.
They started off with a five-year contract extension for Kyle Okposo, the player that I predicted next to be locked up long-term in the wake of the news that the franchise will be pushing hard to attract voters for the August 1st decision, if the arena proposal gets that far. Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey are the next two notable impending RFA's that will be looking for contract extensions. Expect them both to get them. Whether they will be back-loaded five year deals like Grabner's and Okposo's is unknown, but they will definitely be in the fold for at least next season if not longer.
Hillen, Gervais and Wishart will be looking for deals as well. My hunch is that Hillen might get at least a one-year deal to stay with the team with injuries always playing a major role on the defensive unit. Wishart should net another two-way deal that should see him as an often call-up. His size and potential are the factors that made him attractive enough to Garth Snow to deal Dwayne Roloson to the Tampa Bay Lightning around the halfway point of the season, so he won't be going anywhere for the time being. In fact I would be shocked if he did. Gervais, on the other hand, is someone I think that might have played his last game as an Islander. His stats are not appealing and there just isn't enough room for a player who would be a depth defender on most teams with the team already set with six defenders going into next year.
But who will be next? Of the aforementioned, I would guess either Bailey or Comeau. But a part of me suspects that it might not be any of these guys.
John Tavares still has one year remaining on his entry-level deal, but what better way to put the Islanders back in the headlines as the NHL heads into the Stanley Cup by singing JT to a contract extension that would kick in after his current deal expires? One that keeps him here for the next 5-10 years?
I will go on the record by saying I have no official word on whether or not the team plans on making this attempt. As mentioned above, Snow already has his work cut out for him with expired contracts and is in the middle of signing some of the team's top prospects, such as Casey Cizikas, to entry level deals. Tavares isn't exactly a priority right now. But he is at the center of this rebuild. Sidney Crosby practically saved the Pittsburgh franchise and helped them get their new arena not long after he was drafted. Tavares might not be the same player, but he certainly can have the same effect. I don't see a better way for the team and it's number one center to show commitment to Long Island than an early extension.
But if that is not the next move then announcing the team's next captain could be.
Doug Weight recently hung up the skates to put an end to an incredible 19-year NHL career. He was the captain for both the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders and a leader both on and off the ice for the New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks and Carolina Hurricanes, where he won a Stanley Cup. His presence, which was noted as one of his best attributes by Garth Snow at his retirement presser, will be kept with the organization as Weight will stay with the team as an assistant coach and personal assistant to Garth Snow.
His addition to the bench leaves a void in the locker room as the team needs a captain. And there are several candidates. Kyle Okposo is someone that many have labeled as captain material. He was rumored to be in the running for it before Doug Weight announced that he would play for one more season after his contract expired last summer. And now the talk has started again with Weight's official retirement.
Okposo is a leader on and off the ice. Although he missed more than half of last season with a shoulder injury, Okposo was immediately given the A back on his jersey once he returned. His hustle and intensity goes unmatched and his new five-year deal shows that he is dedicated to this team. He plays in all areas of the game including on the power play and penalty kill, making him an all around player that his teammates can look up too. I interviewed Okposo around this time last summer and talked to him about the potential of wearing that C on his chest:
Obviously I’d be honored by it, but as far as I know Doug Weight is our Captain and he’s done a great job in that position and he’s such a good leader that until the time comes he’s our Captain.
Well now the time has come for the torch to be passed and Okposo is definitely someone worthy of consideration.
Mark Streit is someone that the team has to consider as well. He has two years remaining with the team and has been the backbone for the team's defense, but he missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. Giving the captaincy to a classy veteran might be the safe move, but I feel that the Islanders are more inclined to really make a statement that the youth movement is coming to an end by labeling a member of the young core as the new leader.
The other serious candidate is John Tavares. He was the team's leading scorer and go-to guy every night. As the season progressed, Tavares' responsibilities only became greater and his skills, flashy moves and highlight reel goals continued to improve. As previously stated, JT is at the center of this team's core and has been mentored by Doug Weight for the past two seasons. He even lived under the previous captain's roof. Tavares has also worn the C for Team Canada during the World Junior Championships and has displayed that handling the pressure is not a problem for him.
If the team doesn't extend another player with a new contract right away, maybe announcing the new captain will be the next move. Say around June 1st? I mean the vote amongst Nassau County Legislators is on May 31st...the vote that if passed will leave the fate of the new arena in the hands of Nassau County residents.
I would say that's a pretty good day to make another grand announcement to keep the Islanders name loud and heard.
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