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Islanders may be facing offseason of change

Status of Hamonic, Nielsen, Okposo in question heading into next season

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

TAMPA -- There's little doubt that when the horn sounded on the New York Islanders' season at Amalie Arena on Sunday, a handful of them, even for a few seconds, wondered if they just played their last game in the only uniform they've worn in the NHL.

"Not right now. Please," defenseman Travis Hamonic said after a 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning concluded the Eastern Conference Second Round in five games. "You guys have respected it all year. I appreciate that."

Hamonic requested a trade from Islanders general manager Garth Snow prior to the season to be closer to his family in Manitoba. It's a subject that won't go away until it's resolved one way or the other, and one Hamonic remarkably managed to put aside, at least when it was time to go to work.

After the loss, though, he was in no mood to discuss his future. The wound was still too fresh.

"It's a bad feeling," said Hamonic, who was selected by the Islanders in the second round of the 2008 NHL Draft. "You battle all year and you want a chance to win the Cup. You get to this moment, and you don't want to go out in the second round. That's about as good an answer I can give you. It [stinks].

"I love being an Islander more than anything. It's one of the best things I do in my life. That was a pretty cool feeling in Game 6 (against the Florida Panthers) when we won (the first round). I'm glad that we had a chance to do that in front of our fans. They've supported us throughout the whole season. It [stinks]. I was really confident in our group. This is pretty frustrating right now."

Sunday could have also been center Frans Nielsen's final game with New York; the longest-tenured Islander was drafted in 2002 and made his NHL debut five years later. He can become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

"I've always been proud of representing this organization," said Nielsen, who has played over 600 games with the Islanders. "There's a lot of time now in the summer and we'll see what happens. I haven't put a lot of thought into it lately, but I've always been proud to wear this jersey.

"For sure, it would be tough to leave these guys. A lot of people have meant a lot for me here and meant a lot for me developing into the player that I am today. It would be tough, but we'll see. It's kind of out of my control right now. I think I worked hard all year and tried to show the kind of player I am. Hopefully I did enough."

Left wing Matt Martin, who can become an unrestricted free agent, is a key component of the Islanders fourth line with Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. A fifth-round pick in 2008, Martin, who finds himself at or near the top of the hits category annually, will unquestionably receive interest across the League should he reach the open market.

"This was a lot of fun this year with this group of guys," Martin said. "I love this team, I love this group. Obviously, we wanted to go farther than this. It stings, it's hard. As for this offseason and everything beyond this point, I don't really know what the future holds. Right now, I just want to spend time with the guys and I guess try to get over this." 

Kyle Okposo, a first-round pick in 2006 who often found himself skating on the top line as John Tavares' right wing, will also be free to sign with another team in July. He has 139 goals and 230 assists in 529 games, all with the Islanders.

"I'll talk about it in a couple of days, but it's a little bit too fresh to talk about it," Okposo said.

Clearly, it will be a busy offseason for Snow, who put together a roster that won the Islanders a playoff series for the first time in 23 years. But a team that's had a very similar look for several years might be in for some drastic changes before next season.

"It's a business; there's a lot of change," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "Guys in this business have to move on. Hopefully they don't. But at the same time, I understand the business side of it as a general manager with Garth, and the player's side of it with their agents. We'll see how talks go moving forward, but obviously I've been with those guys a long time."

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