The New York Islanders lost for the ninth time in 10 games on Thursday night to the Washington Capitals, further confirming that their season is over despite not being mathematically eliminated from postseason contention yet.
While things have been testy around the organization in this recent slide, things could be getting much worse.
Star center and captain John Tavares' expiring contract is quickly shifting as the franchise's central focus with playoff hockey becoming less and less likely. The overwhelming fear among the fanbase is that the 27-year-old will test the waters in free agency and coincidentally walk despite the forward saying all the right things to the media.
Tavares has gotten his wish of a return to the Long Island with a new arena being secured in Belmont. While the team waits for it's prospective 2020 or 2021 opening, the Islanders will split home games between the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and their former home, the Nassau Coliseum.
However, the Islanders have not been able to piece together a consistent winner around Tavares, which at the end of the day is what matters most besides money, to most athletes at least.
And while he has continuously pledged his allegiance to the Islanders, Tavares' play has struggled as of late. One goal in the last 10 games could just be a slump or it could be a product of uninspired play on a team he doesn't want to be a part of anymore.
That's just speculation, but Tavares has deserved much more than three playoff appearances and one series win in what will now be a nine-year career.
Putting off serious contract negotiations until this summer, Tavares' exact demands are not known yet, but it is expected that he'll be looking for a max deal that spans eight years between the $85-$95 million range. They should be known "well in advance of the June draft," per TSN's Darren Dreger.
Even if he signs with that kind of a deal for the Islanders though, he might not be staying for long.
TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported that a sign-and-trade could be an option for the Islanders should they wish to change the direction of the franchise. A sign-and-trade has never happened in the salary-cap era but LeBrun admitted that it is "certainly a possibility."
Should Tavares want to leave, a sign-and-trade would ensure he would get an eighth year on his deal, which could only be offered by the Islanders. That would make his annual average salary lower and make him even more of an attractive trade target for potential suitors and would maximize New York's return.
But for a five-time All-Star that has carried a mediocre franchise for the better part of a decade now, Tavares likely wouldn't have a problem getting an impressive payday in a seven-year deal, which is the max any other interested team could offer him in free agency.