John Tavares was holding court at his stall.
It was the morning of Feb. 19, and the Islanders captain and his team had finished their morning skate at Nassau Coliseum, in preparation for that night’s game with NHL-best Nashville.
Tavares was opining on any number of topics when he was asked about the upcoming NHL Trade Deadline, specifically the fact that the Islanders weren’t going to be selling off pieces for draft picks and prospects.
“It means you’re looking to get to the postseason,” Tavares said. “And [you] certainly want to do some things when you get there. For us it’s an exciting time of year, playing for playoff positioning. It’s a race that you’d much rather be in.”
For a franchise that has typically found itself in the position of dealer instead of consumer, it is new ground that the Islanders find themselves staking.
The Islanders’ 82 points are the fourth-most in the NHL, second-most in the Eastern Conference, and the most in the Metropolitan Division. They’re averaging 1.31 points per game which, extrapolated over 82 games, works out to a 107.5 pace. According to the projections site Sportsclubstats.com, the Islanders have a 99.9 percent chance to qualify for the playoffs.
A playoff berth would be the Isles’ second in three years, and perhaps the organization’s rebirth into a long-term Cup contender.
Under General Manager Garth Snow, the Islanders have focused on drafting and player development. Prior to this season, Snow added goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson, defensemen Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, and forwards Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski.
All have contributed to the Islanders’ success in 2014-15, and all are signed long term – with the exceptions of Boychuk and Johnson. The Islanders locked up Leddy to a seven-year, $38.5 million extension Tuesday.
“We have something special in this locker room,” Leddy said in a statement. “And I’m excited to be a part of it for seven more years. From the start of my time here, the Islanders have been a first class organization. I’m honored by their commitment to me and look forward to challenging for the Stanley Cup for years to come.”
Looking ahead, Boychuk and Lubomir Visnovsky are unrestricted free agents this summer, while Matt Donovan, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and Thomas Hickey are restricted free agents. Following the 2015-16 season, Johnson, Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, Matt Martin, Michael Grabner and Brian Strait are UFAs. Ryan Strome and Casey Cizikas are RFAs that summer.