The Islanders, as always, are focused on the next game. That happens to be against Vegas on Sunday afternoon at UBS Arena.
But the NHL-wide COVID-19 outbreak has raised into question how many next games there will be in the short term. The league announced on Saturday the Bruins and the Predators have joined the Flames, Panthers and Avalanche in having their schedules shut down through the planned, three-day NHL holiday break starting on Thursday.
Approximiately 70 players — 10% of the 700 league-wide — are in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol and the number of games postponed this season has climbed past 20.There has been speculation there will be a league-wide pause.
The Islanders (8-12-5), who have won two straight at home, are also scheduled to host the Canadiens on Monday but that game may need to be postponed based on Montreal’s availability and ability to travel across the U.S. border.
"To be honest, I don’t think we’re thinking along those lines," captain Anders Lee, the team’s NHL Players’ Association representative, said on Saturday after practice at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. "We’re just looking forward to the next game. Some of the stuff is out of our control. We’re taking all the measures we can to make sure guys are healthy and available."
Lee is one of nine Islanders that have tested positive since Nov. 16. Only Mathew Barzal is currently in COVID-19 protocol and unavailable to play. The Islanders had two games postponed on Nov. 28-30 when they had eight players unavailable.
The NHL and the NHLPA jointly announced on Saturday enhanced COVID-19 guidelines that will be in effect through at least Jan. 7.
"We just want to play games," said defenseman Scott Mayfield, who has also participated in the NHLPA teleconferences. "Do whatever it takes to get in as many games in as possible. You see the news and a lot of guys are getting it. I just hope everyone feels OK and we stay as safe as possible."
Also in question is the NHL’s planned participation in February’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, where anybody testing positive might have to quarantine in China for up to five weeks.
Islanders coach Barry Trotz has been named an assistant on Jon Cooper’s staff for Team Canada.
"Everybody’s going to be in a different place and their thoughts are going to be in a different place," Trotz said. "My personal opinion won’t be everybody’s opinion. If we go as a league, I will be thrilled to go. If we don’t, I’ll accept the decision and that will be it."
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said it will be the NHLPA’s decision whether to participate. The NHL has until Jan. 10 to withdraw from the Beijing Games without financial penalty.
"There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be hashed out and put into place," Lee said. "At this stage, it’s usually figured out in a normal Olympic year. COVID is playing a huge part of that. Players want to go. They want to represent their country. But they also want it to be in an environment that makes sense."