This playoff push, this pressure of either trying to maintain a postseason spot or force the team’s way into a berth is always the “fun” part of the season for Islanders captain Anders Lee.
Most players describe the stretch of games from February through the regular-season finale in April that way.
Except, nestled within this “fun” is the anxiety that always comes before the NHL’s trade deadline. This season it comes on Feb. 24.
Lee, of course, no longer has the personal worries of being moved after agreeing to a seven-year, $49 million deal on July 1 that came with a no-trade clause for the first five seasons and a modified no-trade clause for the final two seasons.
“For me, it’s not there personally but I don’t think that makes it any different in the sense of the time of year,” Lee said. “Whatever happens, this is our group and we’re all close and we want to go out there and make a successful run.
“This time of the year is always a little bit different. It is,” Lee added. “It’s hard to pinpoint. You never want to see someone go. It’s part of our year and that’s part of our business and part of the run you make. It does bring a level of excitement whether you’re part of it or not.”
The sense around the NHL is that Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello will make at least one move to bolster his team’s playoff chances.
But Lamoriello stood pat at last season’s trade deadline with Lee, Jordan Eberle, Brock Nelson and goalie Robin Lehner all impending unrestricted free agents. All but Lehner were ultimately re-signed.
“I was confident that everything was going to work out,” Lee said. “We were in a position where we weren’t sellers so that gave me comfort because you have to do whatever’s right for the organization. Even though I was confident that everything was going to work out, there’s always a small bit of you that gets worried. And, if you’re a worrier, it’ll eat you up. But we got through that and, at the end of the day, I should have been more calm.
“It’ll be nice to not have to do that,” Lee added.
Lee said, though, it’s been his experience there are very few personnel moves that blindside the dressing room.
“For example, when [Thomas] Vanek was here, it was very obvious he was getting traded,” Lee said of the left wing who had a 47-game stint with the Islanders in 2013-14 between being acquired from the Sabres early in the season, then being dealt to the Canadiens. “It’s very rare that you see a big thing that happens and it was kind of blindsided.”
‘Five and a half’
Mixing and matching the defense pairs has become the norm since top-pair stalwart Adam Pelech suffered a regular season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury on Jan. 2. Coach Barry Trotz relies on his five veterans – Ryan Pulock, Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Scott Mayfield and Devon Toews – and spots in rookie Noah Dobson.
Typically, Dobson sees little to no ice time in third periods of tight games.
“We’ll be running sort of that five and a half type thing and guys will be playing with different partners,” Trotz said of the plan moving ahead.
Trotz said he’s hoping Dobson can receive more playing time on the power play and is not worried about taxing his other five defensemen with too much ice time.
“They each have to pick up a couple of minutes each,” Trotz said. “I don’t think it impacts them too greatly unless you get a lot of special teams where guys are pigeon-holed a little more. A guy like Mayfield, he’s a penalty killer, a late-game guy. Those moments, if you get a bunch of penalties, he’s picking up a lot more minutes.”
Picked from the pod
Traveling has always been one of defenseman Scott Mayfield’s non-hockey passions. As a player, he’s gone to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and, of course, Canada. He’s also visited his brother, Patrick, at his various foreign postings as an Air Force pilot in South Korea, Vietnam and Italy.
He and his fiancé, Emily, also try to take one big trip each offseason.
Mayfield discussed his love of travel and where he went during the Islanders’ 10-day All-Star Game/bye week break as the guest on Episode 19 of Newsday’s Island Ice podcast.
“During the break it’s nice to try and get out,” Mayfield said. “Me and my fiancé, we went to Iceland. It’s funny saying that. People kind of look at you and think it’s really hard to get to and, ‘Oh, it’s snowy and why did you do that?’ It’s pretty much the same weather as here and it’s not a bad flight over there and it’s just a really beautiful country. We had a really good time, spending four days there.
“For me and Emily, it’s a huge part of our life,” Mayfield added. “We love it. I would rather travel, always, than spend money on clothes or anything else. It’s creating memories, photography, what you can do over there and seeing different cultures and trying different foods. All that stuff. It’s always been pretty important to us.”
The Islanders’ final stretch of 33 regular-season games started Saturday with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Canucks at Barclays Center. Here are some of the key dates:
Feb. 21 – John Tonelli jersey retirement ceremony (vs. Red Wings at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum
Feb. 24 – NHL trade deadline
Feb. 25 – Fourth and last regular-season game vs. Rangers (at Coliseum)
Feb. 29 – Butch Goring jersey retirement ceremony (vs. Bruins at Coliseum)
March 22 – Last of 13 regular-season games at Barclays Center (vs. Hurricanes)
April 2 – Return of former goalie Robin Lehner (vs. Blackhawks at Coliseum)
April 4 – Regular-season finale (vs. Devils at Coliseum)