With the 2014 Sochi Olympics winding down, and players and staff returning to NHL practice this week, the New York Islanders were greeted by the news Thursday that captain and leading scorer John Tavares is out for the season after tearing the MCL and meniscus in his left knee during Canada's 2-1 quarterfinal win against Latvia on Wednesday.
Preliminary reports are that Tavares will be back in time for training camp next season, but for the time being the Islanders are facing the reality of finishing a difficult 2013-14 season without their franchise player.
"It's an opportunity right now. You saw our practice. We don't have Matt Martin, we don't have Frans Nielsen, we don't have Tavares. We're pretty banged up right now," coach Jack Capuano said Thursday. "Moving forward, it's going to be tough, but other guys are going to get an opportunity earlier than expected. Hopefully they can make the best of it."
Nielsen is out with a broken hand sustained in a 5-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 8, the Islanders' final game before the start of the Olympic break. The loss of both of their top centers will open the door for Brock Nelson, who had seven goals over a 13-game span in January to solidify his spot centering the third line.
"I might have a different role, but I think if everyone prepares and gets ready we should be fine as a team," Nelson said. "We've just got to worry about playing our game."
Prospect Ryan Strome could be looked to for offensive contributions in Tavares' absence. Strome scored twice in the 2014 AHL All-Star Classic on Feb. 12 and has scored in three straight games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League. In 15 games with the Islanders this season, the first-round pick (No. 5) in 2011 has a goal and four points.
Whether it's prospects or veterans who step up, the Islanders will have a big hole to fill without their best player.
"Obviously you can't replace a guy like that," forward Colin McDonald said. "I think everyone's going to get an opportunity to kind of pick up the slack. Hopefully guys are looking forward to it."