Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, and New York Islanders center Frans Nielsen (51), of Denmark, fight for control of the puck during the second period of Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday, May 8
Chris O'Meara
May 10, 2016

SYOSSET, N.Y. (AP) Two days after getting knocked out of the second round of the playoffs, the New York Islanders were still dealing with the sting of their loss as they prepared to head into an offseason of uncertainty.

''It's still really hard to decompress,'' captain John Tavares said Tuesday at the team's practice facility. ''Still a lot of thoughts replaying over, obviously the series and how it went. (I) could have been a lot better and the team as well.''

The Islanders just completed a successful first season in Brooklyn's Barclays Center after spending the franchise's first 43 years at Long Island's Nassau Coliseum.

They earned a playoff berth for the second straight year, and third in the past four, reaching the 100-point mark in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1982.

The team dealt with the adjustments to the new arena, including a new routine at the start of the season that saw them commuting from Long Island, where they continue to live and practice, to Brooklyn for game-day morning practices and spending the afternoon in hotel rooms.

That routine was changed midseason at the players' request and they returned to holding the game-day skates at their facility in Syosset.

The Islanders settled in and overcame injuries down the stretch to get in the playoffs, and then won a postseason series for the first time since 1993 before losing to Tampa Bay in five games in the second round.

''Lot of strides, lot of growth, a lot of ups and downs throughout the season,'' Tavares said. ''Another 100 point season. We took a lot of pride in achieving that again, doing that in back-to-back years. The first-round series win was a really good feeling. It was big for a lot of us, but just didn't reach the ultimate goal.''

Forward Kyle Okposo added: ''It feels like every year It's been a step. ... It's frustrating we couldn't have taken two steps instead of one in some of these years just so we could've had a chance to win a Cup.''

Players were at the Iceworks Syosset practice facility, cleaning out their lockers, holding individual meetings with the coaching staff and meeting with media for the final time before dispersing for the summer.

When the Islanders return for training camp in the fall, the franchise will have undergone some changes. Just how deep remains to be seen.

The change will start at the top when minority owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin take over the majority stake in the team on July 1 under a deal agreed to in 2014. Charles Wang, who bought the team in 2000, will retain a minority stake.

Whether or not Ledecky and Malkin decide to make changes in the front office with General Manager Garth Snow and behind the bench with coach Jack Capuano, they have decisions to make with the roster as key stars Okposo and Frans Nielsen, and fourth-line forward Matt Martin are set to be unrestricted free agents.

All three players said they want to return, but haven't had any contract talks during the season and were unsure if there would be any discussions before free agency begins on July 1.

''Definitely a little uncertainty, but it comes with the territory,'' Okposo said. ''I knew pretty early there wouldn't be any talks, so I did my best not to think about it.''

The first positive development came with defenseman Travis Hamonic rescinding the trade request he had made before the season to be closer to his home in Manitoba. Hamonic said ''some serious health concerns ... with an extremely close family member'' back home had prompted his request, and now the condition had stabilized.

''I just want to thank the organization and my teammates most importantly for just the support,'' said Hamonic, who is under contract through the 2019-20 season. ''It was a tough trying year, but obviously I had the support of my teammates behind through the whole thing and I couldn't be more thankful for that.

''I love being an Islander. It's my home here. My family loves it, we enjoy living here. I obviously enjoy my teammates, I love them. I love this organization. I said it the other day - being an Islander is the best thing I do with my life. I could not be more eager for next year's training camp.''

Veterans Steve Bernier, Marek Zidlicky and Mikhail Grabovski likely won't return, possibly opening up spots for some of the franchise's rising youngsters. Ryan Pulock was brought up midseason, played well down the stretch and is likely set to be a mainstay.

Fellow defenseman Adam Pelech could also get a good look, as well as forwards Michael Dal Colle, Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Ho Sang. Alan Quine made some key contributions down the stretch and could also garner some consideration in training camp.

Thomas Greiss, signed to back up Jaroslav Halak, helped provide a solid goaltending tandem through most of the season. Greiss then became the starter when Halak was injured on March 8 and was one of the keys to the team's success in the first round against the Panthers.


Follow Vin Cherwoo at www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP

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