It’s a yes, yes, yes on the injury front for the Islanders. President and general manager Lou Lamoriello said Wednesday that top-pair defenseman Adam Pelech, Casey Cizikas and Johnny Boychuk will be available to skate if the NHL green-lights small-group workouts in early June.
But as for whether highly touted Russian goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin will be able to sign a contract valid for this season, that answer likely is no.
Pelech, who suffered what was expected to be a season-ending Achilles tendon injury on Jan. 2, Cizikas (leg laceration) and Boychuk (eye laceration) were sidelined when play was paused on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We will have every player available to us,” Lamoriello said on a teleconference. “Adam has been in a rehab program consistently since his injury and he has been cleared to participate once training camp does take place. He’s physically healthy. He certainly feels good. He’s ready to play.”
Sorokin, who turns 25 on Aug. 3, was a third-round pick of the Islanders in 2014. The indication is he finally is ready to come to North America after his KHL contract with CSKA Moscow expired on April 30. But he has yet to sign with the Islanders as both his representation and the club likely wait to see whether he can play this season.
Lamoriello declined comment. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said on Monday that the league’s preference is not to make players such as Sorokin eligible until next season.
“This is something we’re going to have to ultimately resolve with the NHL Players’ Association,” Daly said. “But it would be our position . . . It may be unfair to let them play. We’ve progressed past the trade deadline. Each team has kind of set its roster. Its roster really reflects its efforts in the 2019-20 season. And to add a couple of “ringers” when you’re going into the playoffs is not the best way for sports to proceed, in our view.”
With or without Sorokin, the Islanders will be among 12 Eastern Conference teams assigned to one hub city while 12 Western Conference teams play in a separate hub city.
The top four seeds in each conference will play a round-robin to determine their seeding for the playoffs’ first round. Seeds five through 12 will play in the qualifying round, with the four eliminated teams from each conference entering a draft lottery along with the seven teams whose season is officially over.
The Islanders, seeded seventh in the Eastern Conference, will face the 10th-seeded Florida Panthers in a best-of-five qualifying series for the eventual 16-team playoff.
“In my opinion, the league and the union have done a tremendous job in coming up with the best possible scenario they could to satisfy all the individual situations of each team, barring none,” Lamoriello said. “I’m totally supportive of what the results were and just excited we have a template to get back, certainly knowing a lot of details have to be worked out. Until they’re done, we won’t have a full picture of everything. But we’re looking forward to getting started and playing.”
The NHL’s Phase 2 reopening will allow six players at a time, working without coaches, into a team’s facility. Phase 3 (formal training camps) won’t begin until July, at the earliest. Phase 4 (resumption of games) might not happen until August. The Islanders could play some exhibition games before facing the Panthers.
The AHL canceled the rest of its season, so the Islanders will be able to add players from its top minor-league affiliate in Bridgeport for the qualifying round.
Lamoriello would not comment on whether players who went home during the hiatus have started to return to Long Island.