The New York Islanders showed up to the rink on Tuesday morning, but instead of looking up at rows of seats during a morning skate, they were looking down at jerseys, sticks, helmets and posters signing autographs with thick black sharpies.
That’s the scene at locker cleanout day, a day of reflection on the season that was, one last chance to speak to the media and pack their things before going back to their respective homes for the summer.
Travis Hamonic’s rescinded trade offer was the most newsworthy event of the day and provided an uplifting note for a team still down about not making it out of the second round.
“It’s still been really hard to decompress,” captain John Tavares said. “There were a lot of strides, a lot of growth, a lot of ups and downs throughout the season. Another 100-point season, there was a lot of pride in achieving that again, doing that in back-to-back years. A first-round series win was a really good feeling. It was big for a lot of us. Very good, but just didn’t reach the ultimate goal and that’s what matters and that’s what will stay with you the most. The opportunity, we got a little closer, but didn’t get it done.”
One by one the Islanders filtered through, echoing the same message as their captain. Calvin de Haan said it’s “no joke getting 100 points in the league,” but said it was frustrating and disappointing that the Islanders couldn’t get out of the second round.
Kyle Okposo, who along with Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin could be an unrestricted free agent if not signed by July 1, said he felt the Islanders took another step this year in the postseason, but lamented that the team couldn’t take two steps in the same year. With an uncertain future, Okposo said he was proud of everything he’d done since being drafted by the team in 2007, including building a culture and laying the foundation that had the Islanders where they are today.
“I’m proud of what’s happened over the last 10 years since I’ve been a member of this organization,” Okposo said. “I might be continuing that, but I’m proud of the way the guys are and everything I feel I’ve had a hand in building here, the culture and just way things are around here.”
So while there was an air of unfinished business in the icy cold practice rink, the Islanders said that the only thing to do was to learn from the experience, regroup over the summer and come back next season ready to compete again.
“We didn’t meet the end goal,” Nick Leddy said. “Overall, I thought overall we made some very good strides as a team. Obviously we had a few immaturity moments as a team, but you grow from those experiences and you learn from them. You keep learning as a team, keep learning as a person and you keep growing.”
Part of that growth is accepting increased expectations and meeting them year-in and year-out.
“Now [winning a round] is the expectation,” Thomas Hickey said. “The expectation was to make the playoffs every year, now it’s well you better at least win a round, you better win two rounds, I think it just raises the bar to us where it needs to be.”
Regardless of where the Islanders finish next season, there will be a locker cleanout day. There will still be jerseys, there will still be meetings and interviews. They just hope that their experiences from this season, coupled with a newfound resolve, focus resolve and dedication will help them push that date as late as possible.
CLEAN OUT NOTES:
ANDERS LEE RECOVERING FAST, WAS NEARING RETURN:
Anders Lee stood in front of reporters for the first time since breaking his fibula on April 7, the result of being hit with a Johnny Boychuk slap shot. Lee, who actually played the rest of the period with the fractured fibula, causing displacement, was ruled to be out indefinitely, but was actually close to returning to the Islanders’ lineup.
“We had gone through three skates and we were hoping for Thursday, but that would have been a stretch,” Lee said. “We were pretty close to getting back.”
CONCUSSION KEPT JOSH BAILEY OUT OF GAMES 1 AND 2:
Josh Bailey revealed that the injury that kept him out of Games 1 and 2 of the Islanders’ second-round series against the Lightning was a concussion.
“I ended up having a concussion,” Bailey said. “It wasn’t overly bad, I was obviously able to come pretty quick. I’ve never had one before. Luckily I healed up fast.”
Bailey returned for Game 3, scoring a pair of goals in the 5-4 overtime loss.
VIDEO SCRUMS COMING SOON
Video scrums will be available over the next few days on islanders.nhl.com, on Twitter at @NYIslanders and on the Islanders’ Facebook page.