The New York Islanders seemed to have little trouble overcoming the loss of John Tavares this season, but general manager Lou Lamoriello shot down the idea Wednesday that the team is better off without their former captain.
Lamoriello appeared on the ESPN Radio's The Michael Kay Show and said there is no truth to speculation that he preferred to allow Tavares to walk as a free agent last July rather than meet his contract expectations.
“Absolutely not,’’ Lamoriello said, per Newsday. “He would have been an asset to this team, there’s no question. But that didn’t work out. He had every right to make the decision he made, and he’s in Toronto. But you go forward. You don’t allow anything to get in the way.’’
Tavares signed a seven-year, $77 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs last July and set a new career-high with 47 goals and 88 points in 82 games. He has one goal and four points through four playoff games.
The Islanders, meanwhile, posted a 48-27-7 record in the regular season and have already advanced to the second round with a 4-0 sweep over the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Islanders will face the winner of the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes series in the second round and Lamoriello pointed to the Capitals as the team to beat this season.
“I don’t look that far ahead,’’ Lamoriello said when asked if the Tampa Bay Lightning being eliminated boosted the Isles' chances of a run to the Cup final. “I think that whoever we play next round is going to be more difficult than the last round, because it gets tougher and tougher.
“Washington is still the team to beat, in my opinion, and has been the whole year. They’re the defending champions, with the same team. And Carolina has just been a Cinderella team the whole year, and I think they’re going to give Washington a little run with the way they’re playing because they’ve been getting tremendous goaltending and they have a good defence.’’
The Capitals lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 taking place Thursday in Carolina.