John Tavares skates during the warmup period against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta.

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Graziano: Islanders Begin Offseason On Shaky Ground

Andy Graziano
April 12, 2018 - 9:48 am
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The New York Islanders wasted little time in getting on with a crucial offseason. The team decided to have exit interviews almost immediately after defeating the Detroit Red Wings in the season finale on an overtime game-winner by captain John Tavares. Yes he’s still the captain, but for how long is anyone’s guess.

Players began filing in Sunday morning, but it wasn’t until Monday that the fireworks were set off. First, Tavares announced his intentions to see what the market has to offer before making a decision whether to sign a new contract with the Islanders.

“I’m hoping I’m coming back. I love it here,” Tavares said to the assembled media before adding, “I think I’ve earned the right to take my time. I don’t know if it’s going to be a week, two weeks, a month, two months.”

The captain might be inclined to take the ‘Stamkos route’ to free agency, realizing that not many players get “to get to this point and possibly see what the landscape is. And I don’t even necessarily know if that’s what I want to do yet . . . It’s a great organization, a great place to play.”

It’s the Tavares we are used to by now, as he has been professionally consistent all season long in his comments. But the management group did allow him to dictate the terms of his final contract season, potentially crippling the organization if he does indeed choose to leave for nothing.

Following that, co-owner Jon Ledecky took the podium, seated next to general manager Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight, to announce he and his fellow partners had "failed fans" and would be "evaluating all aspects of hockey operations" this summer, hardly a show of confidence and support for the current administration.

Ledecky then took to the back of the room and watched as Snow rambled on about being dealt a bad hand when he took over in 2006 and rebuilding the franchise to where they currently are, ready to compete for a Stanley Cup. Yes, he said "compete for a Stanley Cup." Think about how comical and outlandish a statement that is for a team that just took its fourth step backward in four years, falling from 101 points to 80. The Islanders didn’t ‘just miss’ the postseason, they managed to jump only five feet over a 20-foot gap.

The ownership group then sent out a statement the following day, not realizing that some things are best left alone, preaching accountability for an organization that seemingly lacks true knowledge of what that means. The statement went on to praise their work in getting Belmont Park as the future home, even though a shovel hasn’t hit the ground and won’t likely for at least another year. Why is it that most people are taking a cautious, wait and see approach to Belmont? Because it’s hard, with insufficient direction from within, to see it as a sure thing at this point. Remember how ‘iron-clad’ the Barclays lease was?

MORE: Snow, Weight Reportedly Believe They'll Be Back, But Ledecky Says Islanders Operations Under Review

By looking at Ledecky’s actions yesterday as he read the prepared statement, it seems evident that he is not the main man making the decisions. There’s a reason NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, on WFAN Tuesday, referred to ‘Scott Malkin and ownership group’ in his comments, as he has many times previously. So, while fans and certain columnists take their pokes at Ledecky, maybe the fury needs to be directed at Malkin instead if you’re looking for results.

I get a strong feeling that Snow is still collecting a signed paycheck by Malkin’s doing and not Ledecky’s at all. And I don’t think I have to remind everyone that on the Islanders business directory is Snow’s biggest supporter, Charles Wang, listed as co-owner and alternate governor. It could be 1 percent, 3 percent or 5 percent, it doesn’t matter. He’s still somewhat, however limited, connected and involved.

On the ice, sure, there’s talent and young talent at that. Soon to be announced Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier at forward and Ryan Pulock on defense could be providing highlights for years to come. That’s supplemented by Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield, and Brandon Davidson on defense, although they’re hardly projected to be superstars. But there are also more questions than answers.

What's missing is a true No. 1 pairing on defense and, oh yeah, a goaltender. Jaroslav Halak is likely to walk, only staying if Snow gets desperate enough to offer him a misguided extension for more than he’s worth. Sort of like he did by paying Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck - nice players and terrific personalities, mind you - almost $7 million in cap space annually for a combined 15 goals. Or by handing Andrew Ladd $6 million per season on a contract that still has five years on it and, incredibly, also includes a no-movement clause.

If the salary cap increases to a mid-level of rumors, putting it at $80 million, New York would have a little over $33 million in cap space but with 10 contracts to sign (6 forwards, 3 defensemen and a goaltender). An early look at the free agent market suggests the only way Snow gets out of this mess, if he’s even allowed, is with a major trade. What assets are going to be available likely won’t be completely known until after the playoffs conclude and teams begin to be eliminated.

If you thought the play on the ice from December on was ugly, it seems as if the internal dysfunction that appears prevalent could be just as, if not more, damaging at the end of the day.

It is risky and not popular to wait any longer than they already have to replace any front office staff as the draft lottery, trades, the draft itself, and free agency come fast and furious.

But hey, who are the Islanders to ever do anything conventional, without drama? Snow might just have the ultimate in job security, as we do know he has as much as four to five years remaining on a contract extension given to him by Wang. Then again, he might not. Which makes this all the more confusing as the days pass.

Follow Andy on Twitter at @AndyGraz_WFAN 

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