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NHL Power Rankings: The Panthers are not going away

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Let’s hop in our time machine and go back one month when the Florida Panthers were just starting to string together a couple of wins.

That little surge, combined with the fact that they still had a ton of games in hand on every team in the Eastern Conference, sparked a bit of a conversation that maybe they could still make a run at one of the Wild Card spots in the Eastern Conference.

So I looked into a bit and concluded that, while not totally out of it, it may have been a case of too little, too late (then I went and doubled down on it a few days later).

It seems I may have underestimated their chances.

All the Panthers have done since then is go 9-2-0, win six in a row, and climb to within a single point of a Wild Card spot entering play on Monday.

Let’s take a look at that race now, and notice not only the games played column, but also the fact the Panthers have more regulation/overtime wins than every team they are competing with, which would be very important for potential tiebreaker situations.

So maybe I was wrong.

This doesn’t mean they are going to make the playoffs (again, games in hand are not necessarily wins in hand) and they still have to maintain at least a similar pace the rest of the way (and probably get some help), but I was definitely wrong to underestimate their chances because they are still very much in it.

Their hot streak helps them make a big leap in the Power Rankings this week.

We also have a new team in the top spot as well as a new team in the basement.

To the rankings!

The Elites

1. Nashville Predators — They have the best points percentage in the NHL, they enter the week having won eight games in a row, they just added Ryan Hartman and Mike Fisher to a team that was already loaded. Find a better team in the NHL right now. You can not.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning — They didn’t get Erik Karlsson, but Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller are two pretty big additions to a team that is already as good as it gets on paper (and on the ice). Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are crushing everybody right now.

3. Boston Bruins — That 8-4 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins was pretty impressive. Even more impressive: They did it without Patrice Bergeron.

4. Winnipeg Jets — One of the best offensive teams in the league managed to get a little more powerful after adding Paul Stastny without giving up anything off of its roster.

5. Vegas Golden Knights — They hit a little bit of a rough patch recently and lost their hold on the top spot in the Western Conference, but they are still running away with the Pacific Division crown.

The rest of the contenders

6. Toronto Maple Leafs — They are 13-3-2 in their past 18 games and are currently without their best player, Auston Matthews. Scary deep offense and a fun team to watch. As long as Frederik Andersen keeps doing what he is doing (maybe rest him a bit?) they will be a tough team to knock out.

7. Philadelphia Flyers — How will the goaltending hold up is a question that always gets asked regarding the Philadelphia Flyers. It is still true this season. Elite skill players up front and a lot of good young talent on this roster. This team has been on a roll for the better part of the past three months.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins — Without a healthy Matt Murray in net they are in trouble. Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith are not going to get them through a playoff series the way Marc-Andre Fleury did in relief a year ago.

9. Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin is closing in on 600 career goals, another 50-goal season, another goal-scoring crown. He very well could be the greatest goal scorer of all time. Tell me why I am wrong.

10. Minnesota Wild — I think, just like the Capitals just ahead of them, they are probably a little worse than their record might indicate, but you can not change the results that already happened. And hey, Eric Staal is incredible again.

All of these teams seem the same

11. Florida Panthers — Aleksander Barkov is one of the best two-way players in hockey.

12. San Jose Sharks — It is a little surprising they are as high up in the standings as they are. Neither goaltender has been great (nor have they been bad; they have  just been pretty good), their top players are not having great seasons offensively, and Joe Thornton has already missed more than a quarter of the season. Yet here they are, second place in the Pacific Division, on their way to the playoffs (probably).

13. Dallas Stars — John Klingberg should be getting more consideration for the Norris Trophy. He is having a stellar season for the suddenly defensive Stars.

14. New Jersey Devils — It is the Taylor Hall show in New Jersey. He is, quite literally, carrying the team to a playoff spot. They should send the Edmonton Oilers a big thank you card.

15. Anaheim Ducks — The two-headed monster of John Gibson and Ryan Miller has been nothing short of sensational in net for the Ducks this season. They have matching .925 save percentages and played a big role in keeping the team afloat while they dealt with injury after injury earlier this season.

16. Los Angeles Kings — Sometimes they look like a force. Sometimes they look boring and dull. This is what they are. A mediocre, middle of the pack team that has a good system in place but just lacks talent beyond its top four or five players.

17. Colorado Avalanche — Nathan MacKinnon is having one of the best offensive seasons of the past 10 years. Even though he has been around for a while it is important to keep in mind he is still only 22 years old.

18. Columbus Blue Jackets — Overall they have been a disappointment this season. One player that has not been a disappointment, however, is Artemi Panarin. Electrifying every time he has the puck.

19. Calgary Flames — Since Mike Smith went out of the lineup they are just 3-6-1 and falling back in the playoff race.

20. Carolina Hurricanes — With only two wins in their past nine games they are hanging on by a thread in the playoff race.

21. St. Louis Blues — The Blues are falling apart. They are losing games, they traded one of their top players at the deadline, they lost two more players to injury on Monday.

Lottery time

22. New York Rangers — Henrik Lundqvist won back-to-back games where he had to make 50 saves. This is the 2017-18 New York Rangers in a nutshell.

23. Detroit Red Wings — Sometimes I look at their team page on CapFriendly and wonder how in the world they will get better in the coming seasons.

24. Chicago Blackhawks — They have only won four of their past 16 games. The only reason I do not have them lower is because so many teams below them have been even worse.

25. Arizona Coyotes — Hey, give them some credit, they have gone on a bit of a roll here recently with an 8-2-1 mark in their past 11 games. Young team gaining some confidence? Just a blip on the radar at the end of the season that doesn’t really mean anything? That is all still yet to be determined, but they definitely have played better recently.

26. Vancouver Canucks — Brock Boeser will not win the rookie of the year (Mathew Barzal has that locked up, let’s be honest) but he is still the one thing on the Canucks worth watching right now.

27. Buffalo Sabres — They might actually be the worst team in the NHL, but they have won managed to win three of their past five games, including games against the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning. So points for that.

28. Ottawa Senators — The good news is Senators fans get a few more weeks to watch Erik Karlsson before he gets traded this summer. So at least they have that going for them.

29. Montreal Canadiens — They have three wins in their past 11 games. Two of them came against an Islanders team that is circling the drain. The other came against a Rangers team that was in the process of trading most of its roster.

30. Edmonton Oilers — Milan Lucic has one point — an assist — in his past 17 games. That is an ugly, ugly, ugly contract.

31. New York Islanders — Are they actually *the worst* team in the NHL?

No, they are not. But my goodness are they tough to watch right now and deserve to be in the basement this week. Stick with me here for a second: They have lost six in a row. They have only won four of their past 16 games. They have given up 50 shots in a game four times during that stretch (only one other team in the NHL has given up more than 50 shots in a game more than twice all season) and Doug Weight seems to be, I don’t know, totally out to lunch behind the bench.

After Saturday’s loss in Pittsburgh he called out rookie Mathew Barzal by name for staying on the ice too long during a power play in overtime (even though he had called a timeout just before that power play started, presumably to give his top players a rest so they could be on the ice for that power play). When asked about another 50-shot debacle he wrote it off as being no big deal because of where the shots were coming from and referenced a 5 p.m. ET start time after playing at 7 the night before and called it a “good effort by the guys.” The reality is had it not been for rookie goalie Christopher Gibson, making his first start of the season, standing on his head for most of the game they would have been obliterated on the scoreboard. The only two goals the Islanders scored that day were because the other team’s goalie literally fell on his butt while a weak shot was sliding toward the net and then later because an opposing defender accidentally kicked the puck in his own net.

It was not a good effort.

Plus, it just makes me mad they have wasted such great offensive seasons from John Tavares, Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey and Jordan Eberle.

Worst team overall? No. A deserving spot in the basement this week for the way the past few weeks — and the season as a whole — have gone? Yes.

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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.

From billboards to scoreboards, Islanders look dismal

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With two first and two second-rounders for the upcoming draft in hand, New York Islanders GM Garth Snow decided not to make a big gamble during what will either be the final trade deadline of John Tavares‘ current, bargain contract … or the final trade deadline of the Tavares era.

Ultimately, much of the outlook, from the big picture to more specific matters like how Josh Bailey‘s extension will be judged, hinges on if Tavares decides to re-sign.

If the last few months play any role in Tavares’ decision, it sure doesn’t look very promising with March about to begin.

It would be bad enough if fans were putting up “Snow Must Go” billboards if it felt like the executive and others were going down swinging.

Both on the ice and on the phones, it feels like the Islanders are instead going down with a whimper.

Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens felt like a sample of those recent frustrations. You had:

  • Mathew Barzal scoring a beautiful goal, and generally looking like a star even as a rookie. In tonight’s case, it gave the Isles a lead that didn’t last.
  • A frustrated Tavares, who slammed his stick to the ice after the Islanders’ futile attempts to make a rally down 3-1 late in the third period.

  • Awful defensive lapses, allowing a dead-man-walking Habs team to win.

It’s not like this is a case where Antti Niemi needed to absolutely steal a game. While he made some stops, the Islanders only managed a 28-26 shots on goal advantage, even with Montreal taking a lead and beefing it up to two goals around the middle of the second period. It didn’t feel like there was that sense of urgency, making these shortcomings that much more frustrating.

This marks the fourth consecutive loss for an Islanders team that should be fighting desperately to secure one of the East’s final wild-card spots. Instead, it’s looking more and more like the bubble battles might come down to the Columbus Blue Jackets vs. the Florida Panthers (and maybe the Red Wings as a long shot), as the Carolina Hurricanes are sharing their own, less-desperate impression of the Islanders with six straight losses.

Final WC spot: Blue Jackets (69 points in 63 games)

Hurricanes (65 points in 63 GP)
Islanders (65 points in 64 GP)
Panthers (64 points in 60 GP)

The Islanders aren’t totally hopeless, though the road seems significantly bumpier after losing to Montreal. They’ll need to get revenge against the Canadiens in Brooklyn on Friday, because after that home game, the Islanders face a four-game road trip and five of six games away from Barclays from March 3-16.

By balking at the prices during the trade deadline, Snow demanded that the Islanders find answers from within. If these struggles continue, the Islanders will turn to scarier subjects, at least if this slippage makes Tavares question his future.

Even if that crucial situation ultimately breaks the Isles’ way, the bottom line is that the present looks pretty grim.

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.

NHL Trade Deadline: Winners and losers

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We are trying something a little different with this week’s version of the PHT Power Rankings.

Instead of ranking each team on its current play or spot in the standings, we are looking at their performance in the days and weeks leading up to the NHL trade deadline.

Consider this your winners and losers post because, well, rushing to judgements on trades is one of the most entertaining aspect of trades.

Again, I can not stress enough these power rankings are not a reflection of play on the ice or where they stand based on their performance this season. This is strictly ranking teams based on their roster moves leading up to the NHL trade deadline. 

To the rankings!

The winners

 1. Tampa Bay Lightning — The transformation into the New York Rangers is nearly complete after swinging another massive trade with the blue shirts. They added to an already loaded team by getting Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller without having to give up Mikhail Sergachev or Brayden Point. Vladislav Namestnikov is a good player, but what is the gap between him and Miller? Miller has also not spent most of the season riding shotgun next to Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

2. Winnipeg Jets — Hoo boy. An already loaded offense that is among the best in the league picks up Paul Stastny. They went years without doing anything of significance in terms of roster transactions them came out of nowhere on trade deadline day to say “yeah, we think this is our year.” Good move.

3. New Jersey Devils — This was a vintage Ray Shero trade deadline performance, swapping some draft picks and a mid-tier prospect for a couple of rentals. But they are good rentals! By adding Michael Grabner they add another speedy winger to a team that already has Taylor Hall and Miles Wood, and Patrick Maroon is scoring at a 25-goal pace again.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets — Thomas Vanek does one thing well at this point in his career: He can produce on the power play. The Blue Jackets have an awful power play. Ian Cole and Mark Letestu (also a pretty good power play option) are also nice additions for relatively little cost.

5. San Jose Sharks — I don’t think I would want Evander Kane on my team (too many headaches and problems and questions off the ice and he’s only okay but not great on it is a bad combination) but he was one of the top rentals available and they did not have to give up a lot to get him. So I guess that makes them a winner.

You paid a lot, but it might be worth it

6. Pittsburgh Penguins — Ian Cole will leave a bit of a hole on defense (especially when that hole is being filled by Matt Hunwick), and Filip Gustavsson is a really good goalie prospect, and they trade first-round picks like they are burning a hole in their pocket, but with Derick Brassard now in the mix after the three-team trade they might have an even better quartet of centers than they did the past two seasons.

7. Nashville Predators — They paid a steep price to get Ryan Hartman, but he is a pretty good player, he is still young, he is still under team control for a while, and even though he will be due for a raise after this season as a restricted free agent the Predators absolutely have the salary cap space to afford him. A really good depth player for a Stanley Cup contender, which the Predators will be for the foreseeable future.

8. Vegas Golden Knights — Their inclusion in the Brassard trade with the Penguins and Ottawa Senators was a little weird, but I admire their apparent strong push to land Erik Karlsson. The big question is should a first-year team that still needs to build an organization from the ground up trade so many draft picks for Tomas Tatar? It is a legitimate question, but Tatar adds another scoring option to a team that already has a deep, well-rounded group of forwards and the best record in the league (based on points percentage). I will allow it.

9. Boston Bruins — Given the price of rentals they paid a pretty steep one for Rick Nash, but he’s still a really good two-way player that can help in all three phases of the game. I am not sure what Brian Gionta and Tommy Wingels will do for them, but Nash is a good pickup for a team that has a legitimate shot to win it all.

The Sellers that did well

10. Chicago Blackhawks — Hartman could have been someone that was around for a while, but if his value is a first-round draft pick and a decent prospect you would be crazy not to cash that in when you have the chance. They did a nice job replenishing the draft pick cupboard by picking up four picks over the next two years.

11. New York Rangers — They turned Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller, and Nick Holden into six draft picks (including two first-round picks and a second-round pick that could become another first) and eight other players. That is a lot of assets coming into the organization. The key questions though are whether or not any of those eight players are high upside players that can be a part of a rebuild, and what they do with those draft picks. That’s a lot of first-round picks, but they could all be really late first-rounders which don’t really carry a ton of value.

12. Detroit Red Wings — Not getting anything for Mike Green is a little tough but that may have been out of their control. His health was a concern, he had a big say in where he could go, and there just may not have been a huge market. They did add a ton of draft picks for Tatar and Petr Mrazek. They now have eight picks in the first four rounds of the 2018 draft and another six in the first round rounds of the 2019 draft. They have to rebuild sooner or later and they now have a ton of draft pick currency.

You didn’t hurt yourself

13. Philadelphia Flyers — They added Petr Mrazek, mostly out of desperation, and did nothing else of note other than claiming Johnny Oduya on waivers. That’s okay. The Flyers are a really good team that is playing extremely well over the past three months and has a lot of young talent. No need to mess with it right now. Their window is just opening.

14. Toronto Maple Leafs — Tomas Plekanec is a nice depth addition to a team that could use a responsible, veteran forward in its bottom-six.

15. Washington Capitals — They didn’t make the big trade they have been accustomed to making in recent seasons and instead went for a couple of depth moves on defense. Not the worst case scenario. They may not be as good as their record and you don’t want to do something crazy in a season where you are probably more than one player away. You don’t want to trade Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat. Again.

16. Los Angeles Kings — Dion Phaneuf is a fraction of what he used to be but he will probably give them a little more value than Marian Gaborik would have, and Tobias Rieder adds a little bit of speed and upside to a lineup that was lacking in both of those things.

17. Montreal Canadiens — Their standing here is mostly do to the fact that they did not trade Max Pacioretty at a point where his value is so low. They really didn’t do much of significance. Maybe Mike Reilly can be okay? Basically I am just giving Marc Bergevin credit for not doing something that would hurt the team.

18. Florida Panthers — Frank Vatrano is a pretty decent buy-low gamble. Maybe a fresh start and a change of scenery where he can play a bigger role helps him realize some of that potential.

19. Arizona Coyotes — They sold Rieder at what might be a lowpoint, which isn’t ideal, but they did end up with a pretty good goaltending option in Darcy Kuemper.

The incompletes

20. Calgary Flames — Does Nick Shore for a seventh-round draft pick do much for you? No? Good. It shouldn’t. They did add Chris Stewart on waivers so I guess that is something.

21. Carolina Hurricanes — Every year we are told this could be the year Jeff Skinner gets traded, then he never gets traded. That is actually a good thing for the Hurricanes because Jeff Skinner is really good. Their only move was a minor league deal to send Josh Jooris to Pittsburgh for Greg McKegg.

22. Colorado Avalanche — They traded Chris Bigras for Ryan Graves. I have nothing else to add.

23. Dallas Stars — They did nothing. Nothing to see here.

24. Minnesota Wild — They lost Stewart on waivers and traded Reilly for a draft pick. Nashville and Winnipeg loaded up in their division in an arms race. At the moment, they would have to get through those two teams in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Oof.

What is happening here?

25. Ottawa Senators — They deserve their own category because I really do not know where to put them. They did pretty well for Brassard by getting a first-round pick and a really good goalie prospect, and they were able to flip Cole for another pick and prospect as an extension of that trade tree, but there are still a ton of questions here. The Karlsson situation remains unresolved and it is hard to imagine his value increasing at the draft when the team trading for him is guaranteed even less time with him. The rest of the team remains in place. Maybe you have not noticed but the rest of the team kind of stinks at the moment.

The losers

26. New York Islanders — You have John Tavares, Mathew Barzal, Josh Bailey, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee all having great seasons. You have an offense that can score goals at a level few teams can match. You had all season to do something to fix the shortcomings on defense and in net. You traded Jason Chimera for a younger version of Jason Chimera, and also traded a draft pick for a defenseman that was available on waivers a couple of months ago. Something tells me those Snow Must Go chants will not be going away anytime soon at the Barclays Center.

27. Edmonton Oilers — Maroon is a 20-25 goal forward, carries a relatively decent salary cap hit for the rest of this season, and all Edmonton has to show for him is a mid-level prospect and a third-round draft pick two drafts from now. Their trade deadline consisted of them trading Maroon, Letestu, and Brandon Davidson for Pontus Aberg, J.D. Dudek and two draft picks in 2019.

Actually, this might be the most damning statement of all when it comes to the 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers.

28. St. Louis Blues — One point out of a playoff spot and they trade one of their top scorers for futures. That six-game losing streak where the offense has disappeared is not sitting well with the front office it would seem.

29. Buffalo Sabres — Evander Kane was supposed to be one of the top rentals available and their return does not even guarantee them a first-round draft pick. They also got a 24-year-old “prospect” and a mid-round draft pick. Not sure if that says more about the Sabres front office or Evander Kane.

30. Vancouver Canucks — Jim Benning said he would have preferred a draft pick in the trade for Thomas Vanek but there just wasn’t an opportunity to get that. There were 18 draft picks that exchanged hands across the league on Monday alone. A team in the bottom-five in the standings re-signed Erik Gudbranson, traded Vanek for a marginal prospect and a player that is actually older than Vanek, and did nothing else.

31. Anaheim Ducks — They traded for a 38-year-old forward (Chimera) that has two goals and 11 total points in 58 games this season and signed a 35-year-old forward (Chris Kelly) that has seven goals and seven assists in 93 NHL games since the start of the 2015-16 season and managed zero goals and only two assists in 15 games in the AHL this season, presumably because he had a couple of good games in the Olympics against non-NHL talent.

MORE: PHT’s 2018 Trade Deadline Tracker.

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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.

Oilers trade Brandon Davidson to Islanders

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Maybe the third time will be the charm for Peter Chiarelli.

The first two times he has made a trade with New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow he has, well, let us just say he has not done well.

There was the trade that sent two draft picks to the Islanders for Griffin Reinhart. Those two draft picks turned into Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier. Reinhart is no longer in the Oilers organization and only played 29 games for the team.

Then this past summer he traded Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome. So far this season Eberle has 21 goals and 44 total points  for the Islanders while Strome, who has topped 40 points in a season just once in his career, has just nine goals and 15 assists for the Oilers.

There is no way this trade can turn out to be that bad. Right? Right?!

Let us take a look at it.

The trade: The Edmonton Oilers traded defenseman Brandon Davidson to the New York Islanders in exchange for a 2019 third-round draft pick.

Why the Islanders are making this trade: Have you seen their defense? Have you seen the way they play defensively? They are DESPERATE. They have an offense that can score with the best teams in the NHL. They are getting amazing years out of John Tavares, Josh Bailey, Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle. They are fourth in the NHL in goals for. They are 31st in goals against. There are only 31 teams in the league. They need to find somebody — anybody! — that can help them prevent goals. Is Davidson a game-changer? Not at all. He is probably at best a bottom-pairing defenseman. But he is something.

The Islanders enter play on Saturday one point out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Why the Oilers are making this trade: They are going nowhere and looking to unload anyone they can. Davidson is in the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent this season and would probably get a bit of a raise over his $1.4 million salary cap hit this season. That is something the Oilers simply can not afford given their salary cap situation. A third-round draft pick in 2019 isn’t a huge score, but it is something.

Davidson was originally drafted by the Oilers in 2010 and remained with the organization until he was traded to Montreal in February of 2017 for David Desharnais.

He played with the Canadiens until a few weeks ago when he was placed on waivers and claimed by the Oilers.

Who won the trade? The Islanders are, again, desperate for defense and picked up a warm body for very little price. The Oilers got a draft pick for somebody that was not even on their roster a few weeks ago and did not cost anything for them to originally acquire.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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.

 

Josh Bailey uses career season to cash in with $30 million extension

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The New York Islanders announced on Friday that they’ve extended one of their most productive forwards.

No, not John Tavares, but rather one of his wingers, Josh Bailey, who inked a six-year deal to stay with the only NHL organization he’s known.

“Josh has become one of the core members of the New York Islanders,” said Islanders president and general manager Garth Snow in a statement. “He has developed within our system for several years and it’s exciting to see him mature into the player we always had confidence he would become. To come into the past few seasons and see Josh set new career highs each year, has been impressive and we’re excited to see him continue to do that with the organization as we move forward.”

Per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Bailey’s deal is worth $30 million, meaning he’ll carry a $5 million cap hit through the 2023-24 season.

Bailey, 28, in the middle of career year, is third on the Islanders in scoring with 62 points and is second on the team in assists with 47. He does lead them in power play points with 28. A first-round pick in 2008, he probably could have earned a bit more on the open market if he went to unrestricted free agency this summer, but he was clearly willing to take less to stay on Long Island with his family.

This deal could have an affect on what Tavares, who can become a UFA on July 1, decides over the next few months. Bailey has been a regular linemate for the Islanders captain for the last several years and now knowing that he’s locked up until at least 2024 should be good news in the sense of some familiarity going forward. (It must also be nice for Tavares to see one of his wingers being kept after watching Matt Moulson, Thomas Vanek and Kyle Okposo leave through trades/free agency.)

There are a couple of other pending UFA and restricted free agents for Snow to deal with this summer like Brock Nelson, Calvin de Haan and Ryan Pulock, but obviously Tavares is of primary concern. This deal could go a long way to keeping the captain with the organization.

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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.