The Islanders spent some time in the community on Monday as they delivered gifts and cookies to frontline workers at Northwell Health Long Island Jewish Medical Center. During that visit, Islanders Co-Owner Jon Ledecky met with reporters to talk about how important the frontline workers have been to the community but he also took some time to talk about some other subjects centering around the announced start of the 2020-21 NHL season as well as other news from Islanders Country.
With regards to Sunday’s announcement from the NHL and NHLPA that the season will start on January 13th, Ledecky said its great news for everyone as the world continues to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it’s very important for our community and for the fans to have something positive to look forward to in the middle of this pandemic which is hopefully going to ease with the vaccine,” said Ledecky. “To have something to wake up and talk to your kids about, to get excited about hockey being played again, to start doing the stove pot discussion of who should be playing and which goalie should start and getting our minds off this incredibly unprecedented time and onto a sport that we all love.”
Ledecky went on to discuss how happy Islanders fans are but that they also need to continue to follow health and safety protocols.
“I know Islanders fan are so excited about the season start, they’re so incredibly supportive of the team, but we want to make sure that our fans stay healthy and safe and therefore happy during the holidays,” said Ledecky. “We want to continue to stress the need for social distancing, we want to continue to stress the need to wash your hands, to maintain that six feet difference, to be careful when you go inside, we cannot forget these rules.”
While the NHL season is set to begin, it’s not yet known how many markets will be able to welcome fans to arenas. When it comes to the Islanders’ final season at Nassau Coliseum, it’s too early to tell if there will be a chance for some fans to say goodbye to the barn.
“There is no way to predict that and we’re going to rely on the leadership of Governor (Andrew) Cuomo and the state government and the municipalities to guide us,” said Ledecky. “We’re happy to be playing but again the safety and health of not only our fans but our players and the whole entire hockey operations team is most paramount. Coming to a game would be terrific. That time will eventually arrive, but we are going to listen to the health authorities and the experts in and every step.”
Next fall, the Islanders will be moving into their new home UBS Arena at Belmont Park. While fans at games this season at Nassau Coliseum is very much up in the air, there is optimism, especially with the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, that things could be back to normal by next fall and UBS Arena could be filled with Islanders fans.
While that’s not a done deal just yet, the Islanders and the arena partners are making sure that the building will be safe.
“That’s not my decision,” said Ledecky when asked about fans at UBS Arena next season. “But I will tell you that the extra millions and millions of dollars that the New York Islanders and Oak View Group and the partnership at Belmont is spending to make sure that we have the best HVAC system in the world, that we have the best sanitary system in the world. We will spend whatever it takes to make sure that the health and safety is maintained. That is our requirement as a sports team in New York. We love our fans and we will never put them in a position where they are not 100% safe.”
As far as this season goes, the NHL’s plan is to have all of the teams playing in their home arenas and for the Islanders that means Nassau Coliseum. The building was shuttered by the prior arena owner during the pandemic, but there is a new lease holder now and all systems are go at “The Barn”.
“That’s what I’ve been told,” said Ledecky. “I want to thank the County Executive Laura Curran and I want to thank Governor Cuomo for their ongoing efforts in this regard. If we’re going to play hockey in this area, it’s going to be at the Nassau Coliseum.”
And now that the season is set to start, the Islanders are still putting the roster together. During the off-season, the Islanders were able to re-sign defenseman Ryan Pulock but traded blueliner Devon Toews to Colorado for salary cap reasons. They are now trying to get restricted free agent Mat Barzal signed to a new deal.
Is Ledecky involved in those talks?
“Lou Lamoriello,” said Ledecky when asked. “Talk to him. He’s our hockey guy and he runs hockey and when you have the best General Manager/President who is in the Hall of Fame, you listen to the Hall of Fame guy.”
But how does Ledecky keep his emotions in check when it comes to getting Barzal’s signature on a new deal?
“I keep it in check by having the gratefulness of having Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz,” said Ledecky. “When you have the equivalent of two Secretariats working to try and win a Stanley Cup, you stay the heck out of the way and that’s the best thing I can do as an owner. As fans, we need to continue to support Lou and Barry because quite frankly they’re doing a great job. We had an incredible run last year and our goal is to continue to compete for the Stanley Cup each and every season. Lou and Barry understand that goal and it’s the same goal they want.”
Once last season ended, there was hope that the NHL could have a 20-21 season, but there was nothing guaranteed in the middle of a pandemic. But now that we know that the puck will be dropped on January 13th, Ledecky believes that it’s the right thing to do.
“I think we are so well led by Commissioner Bettman,” said Ledecky. “If Gary believes that a season makes sense then as we all have, support Gary and the folks at the National Hockey League, and I think quite frankly a season this year is very important because it gives the fans hope that we’re on the back end of this scourge. COVID is a scourge and we have to make sure we defeat it. The way to defeat that is to have some part of our lives return. Being able to watch hockey on television to follow your favorite team is one way of a normalcy returning so I am extremely supportive of Gary Bettman and what the NHL has decided to do.”
When the Islanders were on their playoff run in the bubble, their fans watched the games on television and the organization was able to do some things on social media and in the community to keep the fans engaged. For however long fans cannot go this season or if they can’t go at all, the plan is to find ways to keep the fans engaged with the team.
“Yes, but with safety and health the number one priority,” said Ledecky. “We don’t want our fans taking a single risk. I think the fans understood that during the great Stanley Cup run. We would get people saying we should congregate somewhere…we should go somewhere together and root…we did not support or endorse that because we wanted our fans to maintain social distancing, we wanted them to maintain the focus on what the authorities were saying could defeat COVID and we will continue to do that.”
The Islanders are set to report to training camp on January 3rd and there will be no pre-season games before the 2020-21 NHL campaign begins on January 13th. This past season, the Islanders’ run in the bubble came up six wins short of the Stanley Cup. The pieces are still being put into place for this year’s team, but there is certainly a lot of excitement in Islanders Country.
And that’s a good thing considering what everyone has been through for the last nine months.