Islanders head coach Barry Trotz observes action at Northwell Health...

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz observes action at Northwell Health Ice Center on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Islanders always expected it to be a challenge navigating through this NHL season

Right wing Josh Bailey was in Thursday night’s lineup against the Devils at Nassau Coliseum after a one-day stint on the NHL’s COVID protocol list on Wednesday.

Still, it was a reminder of how fragile things may be this season amid the COVID-19 pandemic with potential player absences and reactive schedule changes, even with just 56 games and strict league health and safety protocols in place.

Having one of their players show up on the NHL’s COVID-related absence list after just three games, seeing other teams with games already postponed and the Capitals fined $100,000 for player protocol violations has just emphasized how tough a challenge it will be.

"I think everybody knows what’s at stake in the protocols that are put in place," said Brock Nelson, Bailey’s linemate. "Everybody’s working for the same thing and everyone wants to maintain a safe environment so we’re able to continue to play and prolong the season. Yeah, when one guy here has it, or has been on the list, it’s going to hit a little bit differently. But that’s why the safety measures and protocols are put in place, to make sure it goes all right and to try and limit it."

Coach Barry Trotz said all the Islanders can do is address the situations as they arise.

"You’ve got to do all the right things and we have," Trotz said. "And Josh has, too. But you’re dealing with all the different things, these protocols are a challenge and, mentally, you just have to rise above it."

Bailey has not necessarily tested positive just because his name was on the NHL’s COVID-absence list. It could also be out of caution if Bailey was flagged for potential close contact.

NHL protocols require players to undergo daily temperature checks and all team personnel are being tested daily during the first four weeks of the season.

If any NHL player tests positive this season, he must self-isolate. Asymptomatic players can leave isolation if they subsequently test negative or wait 10 days. Symptomatic players must test negative twice or have a 10-day span pass since the symptoms appeared.

Teammates considered close contacts to a player who tests positive must also quarantine.

"The league put protocols in place to make sure that we can kind of control the spread as much as possible," left wing Matt Martin said. "It’s going to be an interesting year."

The NHL completed its 2020 postseason in August and September playing games in sequestered arena/hotel/practice rink bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton. But games are now being played in home arenas with players going home to their families.

"This is a whole different situation now so we’re going to continue to go about our business and play games and handle these situations as they arise," Martin said. "When we’re on the road, it’s very much the same as the bubble."

The Capitals were fined for violating the league’s hotel protocols. Captain Alex Ovechkin, on the COVID-absence list along with three teammates, acknowledged the players were together in a hotel room.

The Stars had their first four games postponed because of COVID issues and do not open their season until Friday. The Hurricanes, with five players on the COVID-absence list, had three games postponed and won’t resume play until at least Saturday.

"We’ve just got to deal with the day-to-day stuff," Trotz said. "This is what we know today. This is what we’re going to have to do.

"Respect your teammate, you’re going to do the right things. You do all the right things and you have nothing to apologize for."

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