Islanders season begins in shadow of former captain John Tavares

Mathew Barzal is among the young talents the Isles will rely on in the post-John Tavares era.
Mathew Barzal is among the young talents the Isles will rely on in the post-John Tavares era. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

So much of the talk around the New York Islanders has been about who won’t be at Barclays Center in 2018-19 — namely former captain and star John Tavares — as opposed to who will be.

Yes, Tavares left this summer to play for hometown Toronto, making the Maple Leafs a Stanley Cup favorite. But new Isles coach Barry Trotz, who won the Cup last season with the Washington Capitals, and his boss, former New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, feel there’s talent in Brooklyn. Will it be enough for the Islanders to make the playoffs?

Here are three questions for the coming season, which starts Thursday on the road against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Who fills Tavares’ skates?

Tavares was a unique talent, so chances are none of the current Isles will develop into a direct replacement. Still, there’s some skill on this roster.

Mathew Barzal had a breakout campaign as a rookie in 2017-18, while Josh Bailey put up a career-high 71 points. Jordan Eberle, acquired from Edmonton last summer, has yet to fulfill his potential.

If all three, and others, chip in, the Islanders may not miss Tavares… Oh, who are we kidding? They’re going to miss him.

Who’s the new leader?

Trotz and Lamoriello have yet to name a new captain, and it’s hardly a priority. No. 91 had filled the role for five seasons, and the Isles will need to forge a new identity now that he’s gone.

They have a number of players who can step up, including Andrew Ladd (former captain with the Winnipeg Jets), newly acquired Leo Komarov and re-signed fan favorite Matt Martin, among others.

What kind of team is this?

It’s all about the post-Tavares era for the Isles. After all, he was face of the franchise for nine seasons.

Trotz is known as a coach who demands that his teams are sound defensively, while playing a tough, physical brand of hockey. He’s got the players — in Komarov, Martin, Cal Clutterbuck, among others — to create that culture in Brooklyn.

A lot will have to happen for the Islanders to make the playoffs, but they will no doubt be difficult to play against.

Leo Komarov, formerly of Toronto, signed with the Islanders during the offseason.
Leo Komarov, formerly of Toronto, signed with the Islanders during the offseason. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

Key Player: Leo Komarov

On the surface, Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello’s decision to sign grinding forward Leo Komarov from the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer, in the wake of losing John Tavares to the Leafs, may look like a simple revenge move.

Komarov was hardly a star in hockey’s Mecca, but he was an important player for Toronto. He works his tail off, and plays a hard-nosed, in-your-face kind of game.

His career-best 19 goals came three seasons ago, and he’s coming off a seven-goal campaign, but any scoring the Isles get from Komarov will be a bonus. He’s a relentless checker, sound defensive forward, excellent penalty killer and all-around pest. In short, he’s just the kind of player new coach Barry Trotz loves. Picture the Washington Capitals’ Tom Wilson, but without the baggage.

On a team that already has Cal Clutterbuck and just brought back Komarov’s former Leafs teammate Matt Martin, he should fit in well and help the new regime establish a new culture post-Tavares. The Islanders reportedly signed Komarov to a four-year, $12-million contract as a free agent. Those aren’t star-caliber figures, but he’s not a star player. Chances are, Islanders fans will soon see the deal as a bargain.