Islanders’ Boychuk, Bailey not worried after Tavares departure

Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri thrilled to have long-time friend John Tavares on the team with him, says he’s never seen Tavares so happy, and that he’ll embrace whatever role the organization wants him to.

The minute John Tavares left the New York Islanders to return home and play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, people in all sorts of hockey circles began writing off the Islanders.

After all, this was a team that had missed the playoffs for two straight seasons and then lost its most important offensive weapon.

But despite all the criticism, veteran players Johnny Boychuk and Josh Bailey aren’t listening. Instead, they believe their team will be just fine.

“I’ve already seen some people pegging us as being in the bottom. That’s just a slap in the face when I see it,” Boychuk said in an interview with Arthur Staple of The Athletic. “Our team is really good. I think we’re going to show them we are a good team.”

“I’ve never really worried too much about what’s being said,” Bailey added. “It’s about your teammates, the organization, and your fans as well. I look forward to playing a role in helping the team take the next step. We’re all on board with wanting to win, that’s the main focus. We just want to give ourselves a chance.”

The Islanders’ offensive responsibilities now fall on Bailey, Anders Lee and 2018 Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal. The Islanders did add some veteran forwards with Leo Komarov, Valtteri Filppula and Tom Kuhnhackl signing as free agents, but those three are known more for their play away from than puck than scoring goals.

Boychuk acknowledged the focus will be on the hole left by Tavares, but reminded critics that hockey is a team game.

“People shouldn’t be worrying about one person. In hockey, one person does not make a team. At all,” Boychuk said. “One guy can’t carry a whole team, be the whole team. It was an important player for us but there’s 23 players on a team and you have to hold 23 players accountable to win a season, a championship.”

Along with some major changes on the ice, the Islanders shook up their team off the ice, too. Head coach Doug Weight and GM Garth Snow were replaced by Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello, two people with hard-nosed reputations and winning resumes. Bailey was asked about the hiring of Trotz and Lamoriello and said the changes should light a fire under the players.

“We’re in good hands for sure,” Bailey said. “New eyes can be a good thing, maybe put some guys on edge a bit. A new start for some, maybe some motivation for others. Different isn’t always a bad thing.”

While it’s certainly too early to say whether the many moves will turn the Islanders into a playoff team, it’s clear the players still there will head into the season with positive outlooks.

“We’re going to be a grittier team next year, I think. More sandpaper, more hard-working,” Boychuk said. “I think that’s a reason for everyone to be excited.”

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