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PHT Power Rankings: 10 players who could be traded this season

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It’s the summer and with no regular season games being played it’s awfully difficult to rank the NHL’s 31 teams on a weekly basis. This week we look at more players that could be on the move in trades during the 2018-19 regular season.

The potential class of free agents for the summer 2019 was looking to be an impressive one, with Erik Karlsson, Max Pacioretty, Drew Doughty, Joe Pavelski, Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, and a bunch of other top-line players all eligible to hit the open market. As is always the case when we look ahead to potential free agents, many of them will never get close to reaching unrestricted free agency.

Doughty has already been re-signed by the Los Angeles Kings. Pacioretty was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights and almost immediately re-signed to a new deal. It is really difficult to see Pavelski getting away from the Sharks, and now that Erik Karlsson is there to help form what could be a super-defense, they will almost certainly work to get him signed to a new deal as well.

That obviously puts a big dent in the potential free agent market.

The other factor at play is what all of these potential UFAs mean for the trade market, and we’ve already seen that at play with the recent trades of Pacioretty and Karlsson.

There could be more throughout the regular season.

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take a look at 10 pending unrestricted free agents that could be traded this season, starting with a pretty dynamic duo in Columbus.

1-2. Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets

What in the world are the Columbus Blue Jackets going to do here?

They should still be playoff contenders this season, but their two best players — and the two players that help make them a playoff contender — are entering the final years of their contracts and it remains to be seen if either one wants to actually re-sign with the team.

This is, pretty clearly, a no-win situation because, again, what in the heck are they supposed to do?

On one hand, you don’t want to put yourself in a position to lose two players of this caliber for nothing other than salary cap space. You also don’t really want a season-long storyline playing out like the New York Islanders went through with John Tavares.

On the other hand, the team with these two should still be good enough to make the playoffs, and you never want to punt on that chance as long as it exists. The key thing to watch here will probably be what sort of season the Blue Jackets are having. As long as they are in contention for a playoff spot and feel they have a chance to make some noise, they’re probably going to see what they can do with this core as it stands.

But if they show any sign of falling out of it or find themselves on the playoff bubble? They almost have to see what the market for these two would be in a trade.

Are they the most likely players to be traded this season? Not at all, because, again, the Blue Jackets should be good. But the possibility that one (or even both) could be on the move is certainly out there. And if they are, they would be the most impactful players available. That is what puts them at the top of these rankings.

As for two players that almost certainly will be traded…

3-4. Mark Stone and Matt Duchene, Ottawa Senators: These two are pretty much guaranteed to be moved, aren’t they?

Derick Brassard, Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson are already gone as part of the Senators’ rebuild, and owner Eugene Melynk’s grand plan seems to involve the team having “15 or maybe even 16” new faces on it by the start of next season.

[Related: Stunning one-year rise and fall of Ottawa Senators]

Given the contract statuses of Stone and Duchene, as well as the tear-it-all-down-to-the-ground rebuild that is underway, there is virtually no chance either player remains on the team at the end of this season.

If they somehow make it through the trade deadline without being moved, why would they ever want to re-sign with this franchise?

5-6. Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers

At this point there is no secret about what Hayes is as a player. He has over 300 NHL games on his resume and his production has been fairly consistent across the board every season. The player you see is the player you are getting, and if the Rangers felt he was a long-term fit beyond this year they probably would have tried a little harder to buy out some of his UFA years in his latest contract. The fact they did not makes him a pretty big trade candidate.

Zuccarello is a little different.

He is 31 years old, he is set to become a UFA after this season, and all of that makes him a logical trade candidate for a rebuilding team. But the Rangers’ rebuild is still tough to get a hold on. This doesn’t seem to be a complete tear down like, say, the Senators, and it seems possible he could remain with the team. He seems to love playing in New York, has said he wants to remain with the team, and he could still be a fit in whatever their plans are.

[Related: Rangers could once again be active in trade market]

7. Brock Nelson, New York Islanders: The Islanders are going to be a fascinating team to watch over the next year because three of their top forwards are all eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season (Nelson, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle).

They will also have to give their new franchise cornerstone, Mathew Barzal, a new contract at some point over the next two years as he will be eligible for restricted free agency following the 2020-21 season.

It is certainly possible that any of Eberle, Lee, or Nelson could be dealt before the deadline, especially if the team struggles on the ice (and given the makeup of the roster, that seems inevitable). But they have to keep someone. If you were to look today at the most logical trade candidate it might be Nelson because he is probably the least impactful of that trio.

Facing restricted free agency and arbitration this past summer, the Islanders and Nelson agreed to a one-year deal, setting Nelson up for UFA status next summer. That puts him in a nearly identical situation as the one Hayes is in with the Rangers. There is very little secret as to what he is as a player, and if the Rangers were serious about making him a part of the core moving forward they would have tried harder to buy out some of his UFA years. They didn’t.

8. Gustav Nyquist, Detroit Red Wings: As the Red Wings move into the post-Henrik Zetterberg era there are definitely going to be more changes.

The team has committed to its rebuild, and there does not seem to be much sense in them re-signing Nyquist at this point in his career given where the team is going in the short-term and its current salary cap situation. They probably shouldn’t be expected to get quite the same haul as they did for Tomas Tatar a year ago (mainly because Tatar still had four years of term left on his contract and Nyquist is a pending UFA) but he could still be a useful rental for a contender that needs some depth scoring.

[Related: What’s next for Red Wings in post-Zetterberg era]

9. Alexander Edler, Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks spent the summer acting like a team that can make the playoffs, but let’s be honest … they are probably not making the playoffs this year. Edler has been a staple on the Canucks’ defense for a decade and been one of the best and most productive defenders in the history of the franchise. He is the biggest pending UFA the team has and is still a strong top-four defender. His no-trade clause could complicate a potential move as he holds all of the cards in where he goes, but he could help a contender.

10. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres: I know, I know … the Sabres just traded for him. And it was a great move. Skinner is an outstanding player, a great goal-scorer, and will help bring some offensive punch to a Sabres team that needs a lot of help. And the price was certainly right for them not even having to give up their own first-round pick or either of the conditional first-round picks they have from St. Louis or San Jose in 2019 or 2020.

At this point there is no new contract in place for Skinner as he enters the final year of his deal, so that certainly creates an interesting scenario. He is still only 26 years old (and does not turn 27 until May) so he could absolutely still be a part of the Sabres’ core going forward if they can get him signed.

If they can’t, and if the team stinks again, is it really hard to imagine the Sabres trying to make another move? Give how little they gave up to get him in the first place they could probably easily get back equal value at the deadline.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Islanders open training camp looking to disprove doubters

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EAST MEADOW, N.Y. (AP) — The New York Islanders know they are being overlooked after finishing 17 points out of a playoff spot last season and losing captain John Tavares to free agency during the summer.

That’s ok with them.

They still have plenty of scoring options, led by Anders Lee and reigning rookie of the year Mathew Barzal, and added a Stanley Cup winning coach in Barry Trotz and three-time champion executive Lou Lamoriello as president of hockey operations.

”I think we stand in a good position to surprise a lot of people,” Lee said Thursday at the team’s annual media day. ”A lot’s been said that’s fueled us. I think the biggest fueling factor is we’ve gone home early last two years and we’ve got a lot of work to do to get back to where we want to be.”

Lee had the franchise’s first 40-goal in 11 seasons, and Barzal led the team with 85 points (22 goals, 63 assists) as the Islanders finished eighth in the league in scoring with 261 goals. However, a porous defense that saw the team give up a league-worst 293 goals helped New York miss the playoffs for the second straight year and eighth in the last 11.

And with Tavares gone home to the Toronto Maple Leafs, experts aren’t giving the Islanders much of a chance to contend this season. The players, however, aren’t willing to write off the year before it even begins.

”Obviously we’re being ranked as an underdog team but we’re going to use that as motivation,” forward Jordan Eberle said. ”You look at a lot of teams that have done that in the past … if you don’t have a lot of pressure you can do a lot of good things.”

The struggles of the last couple of years cost general manager Garth Snow and coach Doug Weight their jobs, replaced by Lamoriello – who has also taken over GM duties – and Trotz.

”They seem great, come from winning pedigrees and command a lot of respect for good reason,” forward Josh Bailey said.

The 75-year-old Lamoriello led the New Jersey Devils to three Stanley Cup championships during his 18 years as general manager before spending the last three seasons as GM of the Maple Leafs. Trotz led the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup title in June before leaving in a contract dispute.

”Look at his resume, he’s been successful everywhere he’s gone,” Lee said about Trotz. ”He’s bringing a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge that he’s going to be able to work with us and really get us to where we want to be.”

The new coach’s message is simple: focus on details and strive for improvement each day,

”We got to be hard to play against, we got to have structure, we got to have a work ethic,” Trotz said. ”And the mindset that you’re going to compete for that inch that you need, or the two inches, whatever it is, just get better every day, find a way to get better.”

With no notable additions on defense, the improvement on that side of the puck will have to come from Trotz’s system.

”It’s not as much about Xs and Os as much as it is about attitude and accountability,” he said.

Some other things to know as the Islanders head into their first practice of training camp on Friday:

NO CAPTAIN?: With Tavares gone, there is an opening for the captain’s role. Trotz, however, said he doesn’t know the players well enough yet to name one, and he may not assign anyone that mantle.

That approach is fine by the players.

”We got a lot of leaders in our room,” veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. ”As long as we win, that’s what the goal is. Everybody can be a leader at some point. … Everybody speaks up in the dressing room when the time comes.”

FOURTH LINE REUNION?: Matt Martin is back after spending two seasons in Toronto, raising speculation the Islanders could restore him to the fourth line with Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas that was successful in the years before his departure.

”We got to prove that we’re still the same players and be the same line we were a few years ago,” Martin said. ”Nothing is going to be handed to us. … We got to go out there and earn it, prove it. At the end of the day we all want to win games, so whatever lines are to win games, be competitive and get in the playoffs and hopefully have a cup run.”

GOALIES: Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner go into the season as the primary goalie tandem. Greiss dealt with an injury down the stretch last year and finished 13-8-2 with one shutout and a 3.82 goals-against average.

The 26-year-old Lehner was signed as a free agent after spending the previous three seasons in Buffalo. He is coming off a year in which he went 14-26-9 with three shutouts and a 3.01 GAA for the last-place Sabres.

Follow Vin Cherwoo at http://www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP

More AP NHL: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tavares’ path to free agency is not yet a road for NHL stars

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CHICAGO — When John Tavares decided to pass on signing an extension with the New York Islanders and test free agency, he became the most interesting man in hockey.

NHL stars don’t ordinarily get to that point, and it led to Tavares going home to Toronto to sign a $77 million, seven-year contract with the Maple Leafs. Fellow players were watching closely, too, and wondering what the long-term impact might be.

”Even if we weren’t directly affiliated with it, it would’ve been interesting to follow because you don’t see it that often,” Islanders winger Anders Lee said. ”Who knows if it’s going to set a precedent or not or anything like that.”

The early returns are mixed. Tyler Seguin hopes a long-term deal can get done with the Stars before the regular season begins next month, while Ottawa Senators forward Matt Duchene started wondering about what could be. Seguin said he hasn’t gotten that far to imagine himself in Tavares’ shoes.

”I didn’t look into it really too much because my goal has still been to be a Dallas Star,” Seguin said Friday. ”That plan hasn’t changed.”

A lot of times there isn’t a plan yet. While Seguin said there has been positive dialogue between his agent and the Stars in recent days, Duchene hasn’t talked to the Senators about an extension and Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson is the constant subject of trade rumors with one year left on his deal.

Duchene feels better than at the start of previous seasons when he was less than happy in Colorado and didn’t know where he’d be next. Only this time, his uncertainty doesn’t feel so bad after watching Tavares get to free agency and have the chance to pick his destination.

”It gives you something to think about because you want to make the best decision for yourself,” Duchene said. ”Sometimes the way a team does things can trigger a different response from the individual and vice versa. It’s not a cookie-cutter thing.”

Tavares understands that. He had to weigh nine years with the Islanders against recent struggles to make the playoffs and the potential offered by teams like the Maple Leafs and Sharks.

His situation was so often compared to that Steven Stamkos – who re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning on the eve of free agency in 2016 – that Tavares doesn’t expect Seguin, Duchene or anyone else to feel the same ways he did.

”Once I got through the regular season and kind of decompressing after a while and started kind of getting closer obviously to July 1, I realized that this might be my really only chance to go through something like this and have this opportunity to see what else is out there,” Tavares said. ”It obviously led to me making a change. I think it just depends on the type of person and the situation and I guess kind of the optics or the circumstances in that situation.”

Karlsson could go the Tavares route next summer, though any team that deals for him between now and the trade deadline will likely want to lock him up long term. That could be the case for Duchene, too.

Seguin, who last week expressed concerns that a new contract with Dallas wasn’t done yet, is far more likely to sign in the coming weeks in large part because of the talent the Stars have around him and the potential they have to contend. Captain and linemate Jamie Benn is signed through 2024-25 and doesn’t feel like he has to sell Seguin on staying or give him any advice about going through the negotiation process.

”The contract will sort itself out,” Benn said. ”People think it’s more complicated than it already is … but he’s earned every amount of money that he’s going to get and he’s well-deserving of it.”

Seguin, Karlsson and Duchene are going to get paid by some team over the next 10 months, as Tavares was. Oilers captain and Art Ross Trophy winner Connor McDavid went the more common route signing the longest-possible deal in Edmonton for the highest average salary in the league, and even he was watching the Tavares saga and came away glad it happened.

”Hockey’s kind of always been the ‘I do what I’m told’ and ‘I kind of go where I’m told’ and whatnot, but he was one of the few guys that took his matters into his own hands and you really respect that,” McDavid said.

”He could’ve signed the security deal and signed a long-term deal or a lot of money and never would’ve thought about it again. But he decided that he wanted to go a different route and live out his childhood dream and play in Toronto and you can’t really blame him for that.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

NHL Player Media Tour 2018 Notebook

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CHICAGO — After six years away, James van Riemsdyk returns to the Philadelphia Flyers after inking a five-year, $35 million contract on July 1. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft spent three seasons with the team before being part a trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs that sent defenseman Luke Schenn to the Flyers.

So when it became clear that the Maple Leafs wouldn’t be re-signing the 29-year-old winger, a reunion was in the offing. In making that happen, Flyers captain Claude Giroux and fellow forward Jake Voracek put in some calls to their former teammate, hoping to lure him back.

“Didn’t really try and sell him on anything, to be honest,” said Giroux. “Was just trying to see what he thought. He had some questions about the organization and the team and the players. I was just honest with him. I told him how I really feel. I think he liked that and we were able to get him. I think he’s very excited to come back to Philly and so are we.”

van Riemsdyk scored a career high 36 goals last season and has developed into a dangerous presence in front of goal, especially on the power play He’s already comfortable playing in Philadelphia and can possibly rekindle some chemistry with Giroux depending on how head coach Dave Hakstol juggles his lines.

Coming off a season where a number of young players took steps forward and the captain had a career season, the Flyers and Giroux can’t help but be excited by the addition.

“He’s a great player in front of the net — could be on the power play or 5-on-5,” he said. “He’s a very smart hockey player. He’s a great competitor. I’ve seen him play in the playoffs and dominate a hockey game against Boston. I was very impressed. We know and he knows he has that in him and for him to come in and help us out, it’s very motivating.”

Anders Lee on extension talks, Trotz’s arrival

It’s been a bit of a busy summer for the New York Islanders. They have a new head coach, a new general manager, and lost their captain in free agency. As Lou Lamoriello took over for Garth Snow, he’s done work to try and improve upon last season’s playoff-less spring.

A number of players are entering the final year of their deals, like Anders Lee. His agent hasn’t started negotiations with Lamoriello on an extension, but the 40-goal scorer understands why talks haven’t commenced just yet.

“They’ve been in contact. They’ve worked together before,” he said. “I think everyone knows we just have other things he has to worry about right now.”

One of those ‘things’ is getting new head coach Barry Trotz settled with his new team. After being unable to come to terms on an extension after winning the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals, they parted ways and three days later he was hired by the Islanders. 

Trotz’s ability to develop a winning culture is something that has Lee very excited for the season.

“Barry’s resume speaks for itself,” he said. “Where he’s been with Nashville and Washington and where he’s taken his teams, obviously winning the Stanley Cup last year is the ultimate goal and he’s done that. His experiences and who is he as a person, from what I’ve been told, I think is going to be great for us.”

McDavid felt weight of the ‘C’

In Connor McDavid’s first season as captain of the Edmonton Oilers, they made the playoffs. There was a sense of a arrival and that with an elite level talent like McDavid, the good times finally returned.

But last season was a disaster. As McDavid played out of his mind, the Oilers won 11 fewer games and dipped 25 points from the 2016-17 season. It wasn’t just a step back, it was a plunge back to the bottom.

As the season quickly slipped from their grasp, McDavid felt the crushing disappointment.

“I think anytime you’ve got a team that doesn’t make the playoffs the captain always feels it. Everyone feels it,” said McDavid. “It doesn’t matter who you are on the team. That’s the point of the team. When you do wear the ‘C’ you feel a lot of responsibility. You take a lot on yourself. You think that there’s some sort of magic thing that needs to be said or some sort of magic thing that needs to be done, but ultimately it’s all about the team.”

This summer general manager Peter Chiarelli didn’t make any drastic changes to his roster. Tobias Rieder and Kyle Brodziak were brought in and defenseman Evan Bouchard was drafted No. 10 overall. The lack of change has the feeling that it’ll be another rough year in Edmonton. Just don’t tell that to McDavid.

“It’s kind of always been said if Peter could make a move he was going to and obviously nothing came up and that’s what we wanted, honestly,” he said. “I think everyone in the locker room believes in each other. We believe that we’re going to be a good team.”

Jack Eichel’s leadership lessons from Brian Gionta

It’s been two full seasons since the Buffalo Sabres have had a captain, but it’s a good bet that the 21-year-old Eichel will be donning the ‘C’ on a regular basis pretty soon. Taking on an extra responsibility like that won’t make the young center change anything about himself, however.

“It’s obviously a huge honor if that ever happened,” said Eichel. “There’s some good leaders on the team and there’s a good leadership group. There’s a lot of guys to rely on that make it easy for you to lead. 

“For me, it’s more or less just not changing. ‘C,’ no ‘C,’ ‘A,’ whatever. Try and be yourself, do what you do. That’s the mindset I try and take anywhere I go. Whatever I’ve done to get to my spot now, just try to be myself. Be the personality I have. But you get that obviously there’s more responsibility. You’ve got to continue to handle yourself the right way. [It’d be a] huge honor. There’s a lot of deserving guys, but it’d be cool.”

The Sabres last captain was Brian Gionta, who was there as Eichel entered the NHL in 2015. The way the veteran forward handled himself left an impression on the franchise’s young star — something that could be useful if he’s to succeed Gionta in the leadership role.

“The biggest thing with Gio was his professionalism,” Eichel said. “Gio’s the type of guy who was at the rink early every morning, he had his routine. He knew what he needed to do to prepare for practice, prepare for games, and he did every day, no matter what. Whether it was February or August or October, whatever it was, he was going to do his routine every day and prepare the same way. Big game, practice, morning skate, he prepared like a pro. 

“I was able to learn a lot about preparation, getting yourself ready, getting your body ready, doing the right things in order to be at your best.”

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SHORT SHIFTS

“Begrudgingly. They brought in a BC assistant coach, so it evens out.” – A joking New York Rangers forward and Boston College alum Chris Kreider on if he’ll be able to play for a Boston University product in David Quinn.

“It’s tough. It’s really intense. I think the biggest thing I never really understood was how much of a mental battle it is, how intense it is. You think about every little play after a game, what you could have done better, what you wish you would have done. The mental battle is something I learned a lot about something that I’m definitely better off for [experiencing].” – Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele on what he learned during the grind to reach the Western Conference Final last season.

“No, absolutely not. I think that’s the worst thing I can do. I just have to play my game and yeah, I’d like to score more and create more offense, but you also have to be good defensively.” – Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings on if he’ll change anything should he be given added responsibility in the absence of captain Henrik Zetterberg.

“I think our young guys are going to keep getting better and better. [Alex] Kerfoot, [Tyson] Jost, [J.T.] Compher, all those guys are just going to continue to develop. That’s kind of like adding players when those guys get better, it’s like adding scoring. The three of us — [Gabriel] Landeskog, me and [Mikko] Rantanen — are going to have to be really good this year. I think our goalies are set. We have [Philipp] Grubauer and [Semyon] Varlamov — that’s a great 1-2. We feel good. It’s going to be a tough division, the Central, but we’re ready.” – Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche on improvements for this season.

“He’s very repetitive with what he believes in and the system that he follows. He started at the beginning of the season with what he wanted us to do and what he wanted in our organization. He was very adamant on continuing to tell us what he wanted. He didn’t stray off if we didn’t listen, saying right away he would make sure he would beat it into us. Very intense, but at the same time very laid back guy. It’s tough to explain. He’s an awesome guy, easy to talk to and very serious when it comes to the game of hockey. He’s just your typical hard-nosed [coach], like he played; he’s that kind of coach. He’s extremely intense and his love for the game and his want to win and hate to lose attitude makes you want to win for him and have that same attitude.” – Vincent Trocheck on Florida Panthers head coach Bob Boughner.

MORE NHL MEDIA TOUR COVERAGE:
Kane, Toews ready to turn page on playoff-less 2017-18 season
Tavares hopes for ‘positive’ reception when Maple Leafs visit Isles
Taylor Hall not expecting complacency from Devils after playoff return
Eric Staal eager to stay with Wild, ready for Central Division battle
Tyler Seguin on extension talks, new Stars head coach

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Three questions facing New York Islanders

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Islanders.

1. Build more for the future, or for now?

When you lose a player of John Tavares‘ caliber for nothing but cap space and a roster spot, people are going to pencil you in for a drop-off. After all, Mathew Barzal is one of the players the Isles will point to as a reason for optimism, yet the Islanders still missed the playoffs with Barzal and Tavares on their roster.

The smart thing would be to accept the reality of their situation – particularly after a promising draft including nice picks Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson – and maybe roll the dice for one more blue-chip prospect in the 2019 NHL Draft. Right? Maybe?

Well, the Islanders are sending some mixed signals.

Some of it stems from simple human nature. Lou Lamoriello is 75. Barry Trotz just won a Stanley Cup, was already part of a lengthy rebuild with Nashville, is 56 himself, and about to enter his 20th NHL season. These are front office members who probably don’t have the highest level of tolerance for growing pains.

The Islanders roster boasts some unsettling contracts, some of which were added by Lamoriello.

Leo Komarov is 31 and received a highly questionable four-year contract. Andrew Ladd, 32, somehow has five years left on his ugly deal. Cal Clutterbuck is 30, Johnny Boychuk is 34, and even slightly younger guys (Thomas Hickey at 29, Josh Bailey at 28) carry some risks. The Islanders have more than $19M going to six defensemen who were abysmal as a unit last season, and four of those contracts have at least four more years remaining.

Trotz’s schemes could conceivably help the Islanders at least wade into the East playoff bubble, as a better defense can beget better goaltending. Combine that with more magic from Mathew Barzal and a few other key forwards, and maybe you have a respectable season.

Is that really the best way to handle this situation, though? The Islanders may instead be better off selling off some of their riskier contracts, handing opportunities to young players instead of fading veterans, and generally living to fight another day. Being too good to possibly land a Jack Hughes but too bad to make a real dent is a bad place to be, and arguably more of the same for a franchise that just lost John Tavares.

Embracing reality late could save a lot of future anguish, and accelerate an ascent to levels not seen in decades. Ideally.

[Looking back at 2017-18 | Building off a breakthrough | Under Pressure]

2. Who stays, who goes?

The 2018-19 campaign isn’t just a tug-of-war between players trying not to fade into the sunset versus young players hoping to see the dawn of NHL careers.

There are interesting, prime-age guys whose futures aren’t particularly clear with the Islanders, and the uncertainty should be mutual in some cases, as making the wrong calls regarding terms and money could really put the Isles in a bad spot.

It had to feel comforting for Jordan Eberle to silence many of his Edmonton critics by enjoying the bounce-back season many analytics-minded people anticipated. Maybe Eberle feels a drive to stick with this team, particularly if he can maintain a spot alongside Barzal. That said, Eberle is 28 and only made the playoffs during one season, struggling enough that the Oilers overreacted and traded him. Eberle probably doesn’t want to be stuck in another murky rebuild, and he’s never enjoyed the opportunity to choose exactly where he played NHL hockey. From the Islanders perspective, they must decide if a guy who probably won’t be cheap – why would Eberle take more than a small downgrade from his $6M AAV in a new deal? – is worth keeping around. Will Eberle exit his prime by the time the Islanders are in a more legitimate place to contend?

That’s far the only noteworthy contract year for the Islanders to consider. Anders Lee, 28, has been a wonderful producer, yet he has to prove that he can remain a prolific sniper without Tavares. Brock Nelson, 26, received a one-year “prove it” deal, as did 27-year-old goalie Robin Lehner.

The Islanders would be wise to see how things go with most, if not all, of the players mentioned.

For one thing, management can see where this team ranks, and how the pieces fit together under a new regime and without a foundational star (and with a still-new one taking over).

Lamoriello shouldn’t lag too much, though, as many of these players could command some really nice trade assets. While Eberle’s a little pricey cap-hit-wise and might warrant salary retention, Lee is a huge bargain at $3.75M, Nelson’s at least interesting at $4.25M, and a Lehner resurgence could be awfully appealing for a team wanting goaltending security, considering his mere $1.5M cap hit.

The Isles nailed it when they converted picks to Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Noah Dobson. Imagine if they could pull off a few more strong deals if it’s clear that 2018-19 isn’t their year?

3. How will Trotz handle young players?

The good news is that Barry Trotz is no stranger to developing young players. He did it for years with the Predators, helping Nashville show how you can build a team from scratch (at least when the expansion rules made it way tougher to do so).

There are questions about some of Trotz’s preferences. Consider that at least a subset of Capitals fans were frustrated with Trotz’s occasional reluctance to give young players like Andre Burakovsky the green light, and accepting the risks that come with such a commitment. Is it a coincidence that Filip Forsberg was demoted to the AHL late in Trotz’s Nashville days, while it seemed like he flourished overnight once Peter Laviolette took over? Maybe, but there are skeptics out there when it comes to this area of Trotz’s coaching philosophies.

The Islanders already possessed so-so, aging players who could stand in the way of younger players taking crucial next steps. They added more this summer in the form of Komarov, Valtteri Filppula, and Matt Martin.

Will this adversely affect players who need sink or swim opportunities very soon (if not now?), like Josh Ho-Sang? That could be a shame, as a lot of those veterans are unlikely to be a part of the big picture.

Losing Tavares is brutal, no doubt, but it’s up to the Islanders to bounce back in the best way possible, or really let the pain linger.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.