Entering Thursday’s game, their defense had allowed a league-high 292 goals. And though the Islanders have received impressive production from the 20-year-old center Mathew Barzal, who leads all rookies with 82 points, and left wing Anders Lee, who has a career-best 39 goals, the team has lacked offensive depth and production after the top two lines.
Tavares, 27, has accrued his usual steady numbers, leading the Islanders with 83 points. But the relentless losing of the past three months has had him speaking with a hint of finality. He will sign a lucrative long-term contract this summer. The question is where.
“I said early in the season I would try to give everything I had to this group for as long as it goes,” said Tavares, the first overall pick by the Islanders in 2009. “I just try to handle myself the way I believe is right and be the best captain I can be. I worry about my own game and what I can control.”
Doug Weight, finishing his first full season behind the bench after replacing Jack Capuano midway through last season, acknowledged that the Islanders could be facing the end of an era if Tavares moves on, but he would not extend thoughts beyond this weekend, when the Islanders will close another disappointing season with Saturday’s game at Detroit.
“You think about it, but I don’t think anything will change for him,” Weight said of Tavares. “As per usual he goes to work. I’m sure he will take it all in. You hope that’s not the scenario.”
Perhaps the most peculiar part of the Islanders’ season was how strongly they started at home only to falter in recent months. After an overtime victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 16, the Islanders were 10-2-2 in Brooklyn and 18-12-3 over all. But the steady defenseman Calvin de Haan injured his shoulder on the game’s winning play that night and has not played since.
Four days later, at Belmont Park, Tavares joined Ledecky, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and N.H.L. Commissioner Gary Bettman to announce a billion-dollar construction project that could have the Islanders skating in a new arena by the 2021-22 season.
But since that news became public, the Islanders have been terrible at home — with an 8-16-2 mark starting with a Dec. 19 loss to Detroit the night before the Belmont news conference.
In late January, the Islanders said they would share home games over the next three seasons between Barclays Center and Nassau Coliseum, their renovated but downsized former arena.
Tavares maintained all season he did not want his contract situation to be a distraction. He watched his teammates Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen go through the same process two years ago and emphasized again on Wednesday that there would be ample time to mull his future after the season.
“I will start to think about it more and more in the days and weeks after the season,” he said. “Once the season is over and you take some time not to think about hockey for a few days, it gives you a chance to get a better sense of why things ended up the way they did.”
Since Snow went from backup goaltender to general manager in July 2006, his draft record beyond Tavares, Barzal and another promising young forward, Anthony Beauvillier, has been spotty. The Islanders traded first-round picks Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome and Griffin Reinhart, and forwards Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang, both picked in the first round of 2014, are in the American Hockey League.
Trading defenseman Travis Hamonic to Calgary last June yielded the Islanders extra first- and second-round picks in this year’s draft, but it also left a void on the blueline that the team has been unable to fill.
For Lee, who was injured during the 2016 playoffs, when the Islanders won their only postseason series since 1993, this campaign has produced mixed emotions. He has excelled on the top line with Tavares and Josh Bailey — who also set career highs and signed a six-year contract extension in February — but Lee’s angst is palpable.
“This year feels different because we’ve been out of it for so long,” he said. “The games still mean a lot, but you have that feeling of hollowness.”