In any normal season, there are a number of things that have to break right for a team to win the Stanley Cup. It’s not always the best regular season team that wins and you could look up how many Presidents Trophy winners didn’t capture the Stanley Cup or even some that were knocked out in the first round. The team that survives the grueling Stanley Cup Playoffs also has to avoid key injuries, bad bounces, and in some cases hot goaltending from other teams.
But these are far from normal times and the NHL’s return to play format is going to be a unique road for the team that ultimately hoists Lord Stanley this fall in Edmonton, one of the two hub cities that the league will be using for the post-season starting on August 1st. But aside from the things that will be different for the players are two characteristics that will be of utmost important to any team in the playoffs including the Islanders.
Discipline and structure both on and off the ice.
“I think it’s going to be really important,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz during a Saturday Zoom meeting with reporters. “There are so many demands on the players, not only from us coaches but also from their teammates.”
The Islanders begin training camp 2.0 on Monday at the Northwell Heath Ice Center in East Meadow before eventually entering the “bubble” in Toronto for the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Islanders will face the Florida Panthers in a best of five qualifying round series beginning on August 1st at the Scotiabank Arena and the road to the Stanley Cup will certainly be filled with challenges and distractions.
That not only includes the proper preparation in terms of preparing for the Panthers but it also means adhering to the NHL’s health and safety protocols so that you avoid testing positive for COVID-19.
“You see in (MLS) soccer how one guy makes a bad decision and it affects the whole team,” said Trotz. “They’re going to have to adjust to the uncertainty.”
It’s really impossible for anyone to predict how the playoffs will go and the reality is that this is going to be a day to day proposition. There are those who doubt whether the games will actually take place because of the pandemic and there are those who wonder what happens even if the post-season begins and there is an outbreak of positive tests. But the plan right now is to play hockey and this is going to be a unique camp for the Islanders and the other 23 teams that still have a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
Again, there are anything but normal circumstances.
“We’re going to come in from not playing for a few months to getting some practice time in and then hopefully an exhibition game and then ready for a playoff game,” said Trotz. “It’s a big jump. Players are used to training camp and then you start of the season and then you sort of build with the 82 games.”
And ultimately for any team, success in the playoffs will certainly depend on discipline and structure, two characteristics that Trotz has instilled in the Islanders since becoming Head Coach before last season. It’s very simple for the Islanders who are expected to be whole come playoff time with the return of forward Casey Cizikas along with defensemen Adam Pelech and Johnny Boychuck.
With the challenges both on and off the ice that lie ahead, paying attention to discipline and structure are high on the Isles’ to-do list.
“The team that’s going to really get their team structure wise and attitude and execution and put that in place as quick as possible you have a chance to win,” said Trotz. “The discipline and structure are paramount to having success.”
And what if the Islanders have the ultimate success and that is NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman asking Captain Anders Lee to come get the Stanley Cup sometime in late September or early October in front of an empty arena in Edmonton?
Did the Islanders or whoever wins the cup deserve it?
Should there be an asterisk next to this year’s Stanley Cup winner?
“Whoever has the ability and whoever has the sort of fortune to win, which is what we’re here for and what each and every one of us works for, will feel quite satisfied with this,” said Islanders President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello. “I don’t believe there would be any asterisk or should there be for any negative reason. If anything, it should be for a positive reason. What you have to do to win a Stanley Cup and to go through teams that you have to go through, there should be no asterisk.”
Years from now, when fans visit the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and they become face to face with Lord Stanley, there will be a section on the cup for the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Champions. It could be the Islanders, Panthers or any of the other 22 teams that are hitting the ice for training camp 2.0 this week. For the teams like the Islanders and Panthers who are in the qualifying round, it will take three more playoff wins, a total of 19, to hoist the cup this season.
Along with going through four or five opponents to win a championship, there will be situations and circumstances like never before. It will be a Stanley Cup championship that any team and fan base would relish.
“A lot of people have said would there be an asterisk or anything like that,” said Trotz. “I don’t think there should be. You still have to go and get through four rounds of some very good hockey teams but everybody is going to remember this one. This one is going to be remembered forever. You can mention this year and everybody will know it was the pandemic year and they’ll know who the Stanley Cup champion was.”
For the Islanders, the road to a Stanley Cup or a Stanley Cup* resumes on Monday. Discipline and character need to be a part of their DNA like never before if the 37 year wait for a fifth Stanley Cup can be over.