The Islanders faithful find themselves in mourning, with long-time franchise centrepiece John Tavares now the off-season prize of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But while fans on Long Island look to balance resentment towards their former captain with anger at the organization for letting it get to this point, the rest of the names on the roster have a much bigger task on their hands: mapping out a path to on-ice success in No. 91’s absence.
Brock Nelson, who’s spent the past five seasons alongside Tavares in an Islanders uniform, says he’s well-aware 2018-19 will have a far different feel than the club’s last go-round. But he doesn’t believe the club is without any hope heading into next season.
“You can go on and on about how tough it is [without Tavares], but I think the future’s still bright,” said Nelson to NHL.com’s Jessi Pearce on Thursday. “We have one of the best players in the league with [Mathew] Barzal. He came in right away and won the Calder so that’s a guy right away you look at [who] could even take a bigger step forward and lead us even more than he did last year, so we can lean on guys like that.”
Currently a restricted free agent in need of a new deal himself, Nelson filed for arbitration earlier this month. The 26-year-old’s hearing is set for Aug. 3, according to the NHLPA.
When the centreman does eventually return to the ice, he’ll do so for an Islanders club with a fairly different look up front — Tavares out; Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov, and Tom Kuhnhackl in.
“Having some new faces from outside, it will be different, a little bit of feeling out. It’ll be new,” Nelson told Pierce. “Lou [Lamoriello] runs a tight ship, everyone knows how he kind of runs things. But everywhere he’s been, he’s won, so that’s a good sign and I’m excited to find out [what’s next].”
As for Tavares’ departure, Nelson said it was tough to see the captain move on. But now it’s time for the Islanders to do the same.
“We wish him the best, but things go on and we’ve got to pick ourselves back up.”