Some notes from a day with the veterans who returned to Long Island (or never left) early, with Islanders training camp just under three weeks away:
Johnny Boychuk felt what a lot of you out there saw during the playoffs: He wasn’t up to his usual standard on the ice.
“Regular season was good, playoffs was a little disappointed in myself,” Boychuk said. “We did win a playoff series but for myself, I should have been better. Just try to push yourself every day, try to work on things every day. I can do that, push myself throughout the season and work on stuff I need to.”
There was no hidden injury, no mental fatigue, nothing concrete to chalk it up to. “Just... disappointing, really,” he said. “Chalk it up to that.”
Boychuk trains in the offseason in Edmonton with fellow Albertan Jason Chimera and has played against Andrew Ladd for a long time. Much like when Boychuk and Nick Leddy were acquired two Octobers ago, the Isles have changed the makeup of their room and brought in veterans who’ve been around.
“Leadership, obviously,” he said. We lost some with Frans [Nielsen], Okie [Kyle Okposo] and Matty [Martin] and we gained some with those guys. Jason’s a veteran, Andrew’s been a captain, he’ll bring leadership. It’s nice to gain that leadership back that we lost and maybe even a little bit more.”
Thomas Hickey had perhaps the best postseason of any Islanders defenseman, leading the Isles’ D in scoring and netting the first overtime winner of three in the Panthers series.
It led him to a bit of a revelation this summer.
“You don’t get a time to think about it when it’s happening but now, I was really happy with the way I played,” he said. “I think I really elevated my game to a different level in the playoffs. I love that time of year, I think everybody does, and everybody can find a role and a groove and I think I did that at the right time.
“In saying that, it opened up my eyes too. I can take on a bigger role, it doesn’t have to be the playoffs to do it. I can expect more of myself. I was counted on a little more and I want to do that throughout a season, not just in playoffs. It was exciting for me and opened me up to take on more and be more than what people might think. So next time around people look at you a different way.”
Hickey also understood the Islanders were not the same team in transition they were in 2014-15, when it seemed as though they had opponents on their heels off the rush a dozen times a game.
Plenty of fans have said the Islanders changed their breakout structure. Not so, said Hickey.
“There’s no doubt our transition wasn’t as good as the previous year -- no doubt,” he said. “The D gets frustrated, forwards get frustrated. At one time you’ve got guys saying, ‘Gimme the puck.’ At another, you hear, ‘Get open.’ It’s funny because Jack’s preached the same thing for four years I’ve been here -- be quick, move the puck fast, play with speed and play as a unit.”
So what was it, exactly?
“You don’t really ask those questions from (2013-14) to two years ago because we got so much better,” he said. “We just kept listening, kept improving. Sometimes when things don’t start off right it snowballs a little bit. We had times when we were better [last season]. With the group we have on the back end, all capable puck-movers, we’ve got to be better at it. And we’ve got the forwards to complement it.
“If we get our transition back, it feeds the pace we want to play and it’s going to be really important. I think everyone would agree it wasn’t where it needed to be last year and I think everyone would agree it was for no good reason. It’s something we’ve done well in the past and we’ve got to get back to it.”
Hickey did add that perhaps some opposing teams caught onto the Isles’ tendencies on breakouts.
“We were one of the better transition teams two years ago so maybe teams learned a little bit,” he said. “Now we’ll have time to adjust too.”
Josh Bailey is a new father, with son Wyatt born on Aug. 18. He returned from Canada early, at the end of June, so he and wife Megan could have Wyatt on Long Island.
During the wait for the baby, Bailey became the longest-tenured Islander with the departure of Nielsen (606 career Islanders games to Bailey’s 557).
“Not overly,” was Bailey’s reply when asked if he’s thought about being the longest-serving player now. “I don’t think about it too much. We still have a pretty solid core group that have been here a number of years, so I don’t pay attention to it too much.”
With Nielsen, Okposo and Martin gone and John Tavares off for the World Cup, Bailey’s service time could come in even handier during training camp.
“I just try and be me,” Bailey said. “I don’t try and force anything. We’ve got a good group here, everyone’s very welcoming. Over time it’s come to be a room where every guy is a welcoming guy and the new guys won’t have any trouble being part of it.”
Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss
Jaroslav Halak said he’s fully recovered from the groin injury he suffered against the Penguins in early March and the sports hernia surgery he had in May.
He’s been back on the ice for five weeks, which sounded like it even surprised him.
“First couple weeks was just skating, then I started taking shots, maybe three weeks and I feel fine,” he said.
Halak seems much cheerier than he was last season and nagging injuries will do that to a player. He brushed off a question about the potential for another three-goaltender mess this coming season, so perhaps his renewed health is mental as well as physical.
Greiss didn’t travel to Riga to play for Germany in the Olympic qualifying event that’s going on right now because he said it would be tough to train on one’s own and then try to play games without a training camp, not to mention the long flight.
Seeing Denmark’s Frederik Andersen -- the third Team Europe goaltender along with Greiss and Halak in the upcoming World Cup -- leave one of those Olympic qualifiers with a potential injury Friday reinforced Greiss’ decision.
Andersen was traded to the Leafs and signed a five-year deal this summer. What a blow that would be if he’s knocked out for any length of time in this way, trying to help Denmark qualify for an Olympics that NHL players may not even participate in.
Not to mention that Denmark, which also had Nielsen, Nik Ehlers and Mikkel Boedker, lost to Slovenia and was eliminated from Olympic contention.
Matt Martin still on Long Island
Martin leaves for Toronto next week, so he’s still skating with his former mates at IceWorks for now, albeit with Leafs gear on and a jarringly short haircut -- part of Lou Lamoriello’s no long hair/no facial hair rules.
He’s also sticking around to host his charity poker tournament on Thursday at The Main Event in Farmingdale. Go to mattmartinhockey.com to find out more about it.