The last thing the Islanders want to think about right now, on the cusp on a strong playoff push and amid rising optimism of maintaining consistent contender status from season to season, is labor unrest.
Which is exactly what Wednesday’s dual announcements from the NHL and the NHL Players Association after the sides met in Toronto that there would be no World Cup of Hockey tournament in 2020 had the potential to portend.
Either side can opt out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement on Sept. 15, 2020 and given that owners’ lockouts wiped away nearly half of the 1994-95 and 2012-13 seasons and all of 2004-05, it’s easy to question whether the sides can come to an agreement on a new CBA in relative peace.
The World Cup and future Olympic participation are bargaining chips in the upcoming negotiations.
However, Islanders captain Anders Lee, the team’s NHLPA player representative, is not interpreting the inability to stage a World Cup in 2020 as a red flag for the overall negotiations.
“Not on this one, I don’t think,” Lee said. “I think this one was a timing issue. Honestly, I do have to look more into it. With things coming up, you want to work things out best for your side, for sure.”
Lee added he believes the sides will eventually agree on a future date for the next World Cup.
The World Cup has been held three times, in 1996, 2004 and 2016, since it replaced the Canada Cup. NHL players did not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea and it has not been settled yet whether the league will allow its players to participate in the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.
Olympic participation has near universal support among NHL players, certainly among those with a chance to play.
The Islanders would have had a decent list of candidates who might have played in the World Cup. In 2016, there were eight squads representing the U.S., Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden, as a North American squad for players under 23 and a Team Europe.
“Yeah, that’s tough,” said Mathew Barzal, who almost certainly would have been selected for Team North America. “I loved watching the last one. I loved watching the young team.”
“I was kind of looking forward to it,” said Anthony Beauvillier, like Barzal, a 21-year-old who likely would have been a Team North America selection. “It would have been fun to be a part of and a goal for me.”
But Beauvillier added he and his teammates haven't given much thought to the World Cup.
“We just want to be in the playoffs.”
When Jordan Eberle and Valtteri Filppula each scored in Tuesday night’s 2-1 overtime win over the Blues at Barclays Center, it gave the Islanders eight players with at least 10 goals through the team’s first 45 games for the first time since 1984-85. It was the first time any NHL team had accomplished that since the Flyers in 2011-12.
The entire top six — Lee, Eberle, Barzal, Beauvillier, Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey plus Filppula and Casey Cizikas — were in double digits.
It, of course, speaks to the overall balance coach Barry Trotz has constructed across his four lines. It also speaks to the players accepting their given roles within the framework of trying to roll four lines consistently.
And it also speaks to how the Islanders have rallied as a team to compensate for the loss of John Tavares.
“I think we’ve surprised a lot of people with how much depth scoring we’ve had,” said Barzal, on pace to lead the team in scoring for the second straight season after winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie with 22 goals and 63 assists in 2017-18. “I think that’s honestly because this coaching staff has given everybody a chance. Everybody is playing 15-18 minutes per night. In years past, it’s been mainly put the load on one line. This year, it’s very balanced.”
“It’s huge,” Trotz added of maintain scoring balance. “If you look at ice times, we’re probably a pretty good four-line team when we have most people healthy. I think it keeps everybody engaged. You have to make up some offense when you lose a player like J.T. Other guys have stepped up and that’s what you want.”
Eberle has played for seven coaches in his nine NHL seasons, including two coaches in two seasons with the Islanders. He said the improvement from last season’s boss Doug Weight to Trotz has been the most dramatic in his career.
“Yeah, for sure,” Eberle said. “I think the way we’re playing systematically, we’re a different team from last year. We’re defending a lot better. That’s the biggest thing Barry brought in and we’re winning hockey games because of it.”
Here’s the season-by-season breakdown of how many players have scored at least 10 goals for the Islanders over the course of a full season:
13 (four times) – 1976-77, 1978-79, 1981-82, 1983-84, 1984-85
12 (once) – 1974-75
11 (nine times) – 1977-78, 1980-81, 1982-83, 1985-86, 1988-89, 1989-90, 1992-93, 1997-98, 2001-02
10 (six times) – 1975-76, 1979-80, 1987-88, 1993-94, 2009-10, 2017-18
9 (seven times) – 1986-87, 1995-96, 2003-04, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2014-15, 2016-17
8 (eight times) – 1990-91, 1996-97, 1999-2000, 2000-01, 2002-03, 2008-09, 2010-11, 2015-16
7 (seven times) – 1972-73, 1973-74, 1991-92, 1998-99, 2005-06, 2011-12, 2013-14
5 (twice, both lockout-shortened seasons) – 1995, 2013