With the opening of NHL's free agency period and the hockey world waiting for news of John Tavares' decision on what team he'll play for next year, the New York Islanders are at a crossroads.
Yes, the franchise has taken a huge step in the right direction over the past month thanks to the hiring of Lou Lamoriello as president and Barry Trotz as head coach, but the Islanders are poised to lose the face of their franchise in Tavares and one of the best centers in the league.
Tavares officially became an unrestricted free agent at 12 p.m. ET, meaning that he could sign with one of the five other teams that met with him in Los Angeles last week. While the Islanders are still one of the favorites to sign him, the Toronto Maple Leafs and San Jose Sharks' chances are just as good after the Jun. 30 deadline for Tavares to sign an eight-year deal with New York passed.
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Should Tavares walk, Lamoriello and the Islanders will have to regroup quickly and try and build a contender around the likes of 40-goal scorer Anders Lee and NHL Rookie of the Year Mathew Barzal.
The largest deficiency on the roster is the team's defense, which was ranked dead-last in the league last season by allowing a staggering 296 goals.
Luckily for the Islanders, they have a Hall-of-Fame executive in Lamoriello pulling the strings in the front office now and one of the best defensemen in the game could very well be available on the trade market.
Ottawa Senators blueliner Erik Karlsson is slated to become a free agent next summer, but the chances of him re-signing are unsettling enough that the franchise is entertaining calls for the two-time Norris Trophy winner. According to TSN's Bob McKenzie, "action [is] picking up," on trade talks involving Karlsson.
As an added incentive to move Karlsson though, the Senators could be looking to package veteran winger Bobby Ryan in a deal. Once a perennial 30-goal scorer with the Anaheim Ducks, Ryan has scored just 13 and 11 goals in each of the past two years in Ottawa. Those numbers are nowhere near the production expected from a player that is set to make $7.5 million every year until the 2021-22 season.
The Islanders have the cap space to eat that contract, which could coax the Senators into trading Karlsson to them. New York also has a wealth of young talent that could be used as well, though the taking on of Ryan's contract and Karlsson's contract situation would likely lessen Ottawa's return slightly.
Absorbing Ryan's contract would be a small price to pay for a two-way defenseman who is in the prime of a Hall-of-Fame career. At 28 years old, the Swede still has plenty of serviceable years left. He is recently coming off of a fourth-straight season in which he recorded over 60 points.