Just over a month ago – Jan. 10 to be exact – the season hit the halfway point with the New York Islanders occupying last place in the Eastern Conference and third-last in the NHL. John Tavares was on pace for his lowest offensive totals since his rookie season. Right around that time, Tavares took it upon himself to say that the team needed more from him.
Suffice to say Tavares is a man of his word. (More on that later.) In the 16 games since then, Tavares has almost singlehandedly carried the Islanders back into the NHL playoff picture with nine goals and 19 points. Only five players in the NHL have more points since then. Tavares had begun turning things around just before Jack Capuano was fired as Islanders coach, but the return of the Tavares of old is one of the reasons the Islanders are 8-2-2 since Doug Weight took over behind the bench.
“It takes a little weight of everybody when he’s doing his thing,” Weight said, no pun intended. “It’s been a huge piece of our success and it’s going to have to continue.”
To be sure, the Islanders look to be in good shape with Tavares scoring at a pace of almost 1.2 points per game. The Islanders could officially dig themselves out of their two-month hole with a win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, which would put them in a playoff position for the first time this season. And if the Islanders were to secure the second-last playoff spot, they’d be able to avoid having to play a team in the murderer’s row known as the Metropolitan Division through the first two rounds. (Kind of strange, huh, how finishing fourth in the Metro could ultimately be more beneficial than finishing in the top three?)
If the Islanders can make the playoffs and have a good playoff run, the two men most responsible for it happening – Tavares and Weight – will have some decisions to make because their long-term future with the organization is most unclear. Before we start on Tavares, let’s get a couple of things straight. First, Tavares wants to stay with the Islanders and wants to make it work in the long-term. There has never been any doubt about that. Second, this has nothing to do with the Maple Leafs. If Tavares were to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2017-18 season, there would be a long, long line of teams interested in his services.
“I think we all know a lot more goes into it than just saying you want to be there,” Tavares said after the morning skate Tuesday. “Obviously there are negotiations that happen and there’s a process that goes about it, so for me it’s just going through all that. I haven’t really thought too much about it. It’s coming sooner than later, but I’m just worrying about playing and trying to help this team get to the playoffs. I love playing here and obviously hope to be here.”
The guessing here is that Tavares will sit down with Islanders ownership after the season and try to determine what their vision is for the franchise before making any long-term decisions. Reports that the Barclays Center could evict the Islanders out of their Brooklyn home after the 2018-19 season have thrown everything into a state of uncertainty. None of this means Tavares is necessarily going anywhere, nor does it mean there’s an ironclad certainty he’ll stay.
“I want to be honest with you,” Tavares said. “I think we all want to know where we’re playing and what the situation is, but a lot of that stuff is rumors and reports and the organization has been great, not just with me but with all the players and their families in what’s going on. That’ s stuff you worry more about in the off-season and it doesn’t change my thought process in wanting to be an Islander and hoping things work out there.”
"I love playing here and obviously hope to be here.”
As for Weight, the Islanders could probably do a lot worse than have the former NHLer behind the bench permanently. It’s up to the Islanders to determine whether they want to remove the interim tag from his job title, but it’s also important to note that he’s also the assistant GM of the team. And in reality, the decision is as much up to him as it is to the team. To be fair, Weight is still trying to figure out himself if coaching is something he wants to do long-term.
“I’m jumping in with both feet and I’m enjoying it,” Weight said. “It’s a challenging job, it’s time consuming and I love it. I feel like, with all modesty included, I’m good at it. I’ve had things written down for five years on how to coach teams and what I wanted to do and do it my way. I have my hands in a couple of things in our organization and I’m not getting away from that. It’s a healthy place and I want to prove to you (media) guys that it’s a healthy place because it’s probably the last thing on the list that’s going to happen. You can’t control that all the time, but we certainly can by winning and proving to these players that it’s a great place to play and frankly, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe that.”
And if he can get No. 91 feeling the same way, the future can look bright no matter where geographically the Islanders end up.
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