Islanders begin offseason after missing playoffs by 1 point
EAST MEADOW, N.Y. (AP) Despite winning their last six games, the New York Islanders finished one point out of a playoff spot. Their struggles in the first half of the season proved just too much to overcome.
''Not making the playoffs, and not making it by a point, there's so many games we can look back on, how many opportunities we let slip away,'' captain John Tavares said Monday at the team's practice facility.
After advancing to the second round of the postseason last year for the first time since 1993, the Islanders were looking to return to the playoffs for a third straight year and fourth in five. Instead, they missed out for the seventh time in the past 10.
''Certainly, not making the playoffs is a step back,'' said forward Josh Bailey, who set career highs with 43 assists and 56 points.
''You want to keep moving forward. ... Obviously our start seemed to hurt us. It's tough to battle back from being in that kind of a deficit early.''
Following some key roster changes in the offseason, the Islanders got off to a slow start with just six wins in the first 20 games.
There was some improvement after that, but the team still struggled with consistency and was last in the Eastern Conference at 17-17-8 when a coaching change on Jan. 17 saw Doug Weight replace the fired Jack Capuano.
The change provided a spark as the Islanders went 7-1-2 in the first 10 games under Weight and finished 24-12-4 under the interim coach.
''It was sort of a wakeup call to everyone and guys answered the bell,'' defenseman Thomas Hickey said of the team's play after the coaching change.
''Dougie did a good job of getting us to play a more urgent game and we came together at the right time. We were probably just a week too late.''
Tavares led the team in scoring again with 66 points in 77 games - missing the last five with an injured left hamstring.
Anders Lee had a career-high 34 goals and led the team's five 20-goal scorers, followed by Tavares (28), Andrew Ladd (23), Brock Nelson (20) and Jason Chimera (20). Several other players also set career bests.
Now, with the expansion draft coming up to stock the Vegas Golden Knights and more roster changes possible through trades or signings, the team could be in flux again.
Some things to know as the Islanders head into the offseason:
WHO'S THE COACH?: Weight was promoted to head coach on an interim basis in January and it was uncertain whether he was going to keep the job going forward - or even if he wanted it.
Weight, who has the players' support to return, said he hopes to have his situation resolved quickly.
CONTRACT FOR THE CAPTAIN: Tavares is heading into the final year of his contract, and the team cannot begin discussing a new deal until July 1. The face of the franchise since being selected No. 1 overall in the 2009 draft, Tavares will turn 27 this September and said his desire is to win a championship and wants to do it with the Islanders. ''I've always stated how much I've enjoyed playing here and living here and hopefully things work out to stay,'' he said.
GOALIES: Jaroslav Halak struggled in the first half of the season, going 6-8-5 with a 3.23 goals-against average before he was sent to Bridgeport of the AHL on Dec. 31 after clearing waivers. Thomas Greiss, who led the Islanders into the second round of the playoffs last year with Halak sidelined with an injury, took over as the starter and finished 26-18-8 with a 2.69 GAA. However, as he and backup Jean-Francois Berube struggled down the stretch, the Islanders recalled Halak on March 23 and he was stellar during the Islanders' late push, going 6-1-0 with a 1.58 GAA. Now the Islanders may have to decide whether they want to keep three goalies again, expose one or two in the expansion draft, or settle on a tandem.
YOUNG STARS: Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Ho-Sang provided the Islanders with an influx of youth and showed they could be future stars. The 19-year-old Beauvillier made the roster out of training camp and had nine goals and 15 assists in 66 games. Ho-Sang made his debut on March 2, and helped with his energetic play while finishing with four goals and six assists in 21 games.
ARENA: A big question mark for the franchise is where they will play in the coming years. The Islanders just completed their second season in Brooklyn, but their 25-year lease at Barclays Center includes an escape clause - for either the arena or the team - that could see them leave after the 2018-19 season. The team could also opt to leave after next season. Bloomberg reported in late January that Barclays Center was not counting on any revenue from the Islanders after the fourth season, and Newsday reported last summer team ownership was exploring deals to build a new arena either near Citi Field or at Belmont Park.
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