Islanders President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello concluded his pre-training camp press conference on Thursday by wishing the media a happy new year and that the most important thing was that everyone and their families stayed safe during these “really unpredictable times”.
And then he echoed a sentiment that is shared by so many others…
“And hockey is back…that’s great!”
It is great and particularly for the Islanders who will begin training camp on Sunday at the Northwell Health Ice Center at Eisenhower Park on Long Island. After reaching a conference final for the first time since 1993 and getting to within six wins of capturing the Stanley Cup, the Islanders are ready to get back to work and start what will be a truncated 56 game regular season with all games against divisional opponents. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Hockey League realigned the divisions to minimize travel and that means the Islanders will be playing eight games each against teams like the Rangers, Devils, Flyers, Capitals and Penguins.
In fact, the Islanders will open up the season with a pair of games against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 14th and 16th before facing the Boston Bruins in the home opener on January 18th at the Nassau Coliseum.
“We’re going to see a 56-game season but it will be 56 playoff games,” said Lamoriello who was named the NHL General Manager of the year last season. “All four-point games and I think it’s exciting. I think the divisions, the way they’re in front of us, will be great for the fans. I think the players will enjoy it also and I think the rivalries will just raise to a level that we haven’t seen in a long long time. I go back to the old Patrick Division and I remember what that was like.”
Islanders Prepared For Another Set Of Challenges:
As Lamoriello noted to reporters on Thursday, these are unprecedented times because of the coronavirus pandemic. There will be many challenges that lie ahead for the NHL to get through the season and the playoffs with hopes that things can return to normal for the 2021-22 campaign as the vaccines continue to be distributed. But the Islanders are ready for those challenges that will come up from time to time during the season and they certainly followed what Major League Baseball went through to stage a shortened 2020 season and what the National Football League has endured this season. They’re also keeping a close eye on how things are going with the NBA which got underway last week.
But make no mistake about it, the Islanders are well-versed in overcoming adversity and all you have to do is look at what they accomplished in the bubble last season when the NHL returned to play. They didn’t like not being with their families and they would have preferred to have played in games in front of their fans, but they had one singular goal in mind and that was to try and win a Stanley Cup.
And they’re ready to face whatever issues come up this season.
“I think we’re one of the fortunate teams that the experience that we had in the bubble will certainly help us going forward but I think that we all have to be ready for the unexpected and be able to adjust accordingly,” said Lamoriello. “We just have to focus in on what we have control of. That’s what our group did last year during the comeback to play. That’s all we’ve talked about and we know that things will not be normal. There will be changes as we go along and will have to continue to stay safe.”
Taking The Next Step Is The Islanders’ Goal:
So how did the Islanders navigate their way through three playoff round wins in the bubble and get to the Eastern Conference Final last season and how do they plan on duplicating and even improving on that success this season?
It’s very simple…the Islanders are a team in every sense of the word, they have great comradery and chemistry, and they trust the coaching staff led by Head Coach Barry Trotz. They don’t want to let each other down and there seems to be a different hero every game.
“The logo is the important factor within all of them,” said Lamoriello. “No one caring who scores, who doesn’t score and winning takes precedent over everything. They just go and play and they only do the things that they have control of and that is be prepared whenever called upon. The success that we had was team success. On individual nights, different people came forward which is what you expect but the reason for whatever success we did have was because of the group as a whole.”
And that group will very much resemble the group that had so much success last season.
The Gang Is All Here For The Islanders…For The Most Part:
With the exception of Devon Toews who was traded, Derick Brassard and Thomas Greiss, who left via free agency and Johnny Boychuck who cannot continue his career because of an eye injury, the same group of players that came within one win of going to the Stanley Cup Final will be on the ice Sunday when camp begins in East Meadow. That group will include unrestricted free agents Matt Martin, Andy Greene and Corey Schneider with Lamoriello confirming that all three have agreed to terms.
Lamoriello also confirmed that Casey Cizikas and Adam Pelech are healthy and will be ready for the start of training camp. That leaves restricted free agent Mat Barzal as the only unsigned player but he is on Long Island in quarantine and the expectation that a deal will get done even if it’s only a bridge deal of one or two years.
So, the group, led by Captain Anders Lee and including the likes of Ryan Pulock, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Jordan Eberle, and Brock Nelson is the group and as they say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
“I think that we’re going to, at this point, stay with the group that we have,” said Lamoriello. “Things can always change. There’s a lot that’s going to occur throughout the season but this will be the group at this point.”
Islanders Have Their Eyes On The Prize:
The Islanders were understandably emotional and disappointed when they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning in overtime of game six, a loss that ended their magical run in the bubble. But after the best post-season run by the Islanders in 27 years, there is a sense of excitement around the team. A year from now, they will be playing in their new home UBS Arena at Belmont Park but the singular goal right now is to give the Nassau Coliseum, even without fans at least for the start of the season, one last hurrah.
Last season was nice, but there’s still more to accomplish.
“We got to a point but we didn’t get to where we really wanted to,” said Lamoriello.
The Islanders are proud of what they accomplished last season under difficult circumstances, but as they get ready for a new season with a whole new set of potential challenges, there is certainly a sense of unfinished business.