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Tavares hopes Islanders can fill holes

With three key forwards potentially leaving, New York captain hopes team can still take next step

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

LAS VEGAS -- New York Islanders captain John Tavares knows the next few days could go a long way in determining what the 2016-17 Islanders will look like.

Like the fans of the Islanders, Tavares is watching keenly while general manager Garth Snow figures out what to do with three key players who will become unrestricted free agents on July 1: forwards Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin.

Okposo, 28, played the first nine years of his career with the Islanders and was an alternate captain. But he will likely command too much on the open market for the Islanders to be in play and Snow has suggested the right wing will not be offered a last-minute contract.

"Kyle has obviously put up some great numbers and has been leaned on for his production and his leadership," Tavares said on Tuesday. "He's a guy I leaned on a lot in the locker room and has really become a very, very close friend. Obviously he is going to hit the market and we'll see what happens. Obviously you hope deep down something can happen and work out."

But Tavares knows that is unlikely when it comes to Okposo, who had 22 goals and 64 points last season.

"You get to this point and you almost assume that anybody not signed is going to hit the open market," said Tavares, who is here for the 2016 NHL Awards Show on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN). Tavares is a finalist for the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award presented by Bridgestone.

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Snow is still trying to get something done with Nielsen, a 32-year-old center who has only played for the Islanders during his 10-season career. But with July 1 less than two weeks away, there's a chance Nielsen will test the market.

"He plays in all situations for us and it's such a key role and he would be another key piece to lose," Tavares said.

The same goes for Martin, a physical fourth-line wing who was crucial to the Islanders. He led the NHL in the regular season with 365 hits, 77 more than any other forward in the League.

"Matty Martin is such a presence physically and in the locker room as well," Tavares said. "He is such a well-liked guy and he brings something unique to our team."

No matter what happens to the roster, Tavares says he is focused on one thing heading into the 2016-17 season: he wants to lead the Islanders further into the Stanley Cup Playoffs than they went this spring, losing to Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Second Round in five games.

"For sure, there are going to be some holes that have to be filled," Tavares said. "We'll have to see what guys will step up and what pieces will be added or changed. Obviously we want to take that next step and keep pushing for Cups, so it's a big offseason for us."

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