The uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic has left Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello juggling many different plans for best positioning his team when the NHL season restarts.
That’s when, not if.
“I’m extremely optimistic that we will play at some time as far as this season,” Lamoriello told Newsday on Thursday. “Whether it’s in June, whether it’s in July, whether it’s in August, I’m not thinking about that. I’m just thinking, in my mind, knowing that we will play and using this time to get ready for that.
“But, prior to that, the most important thing is everyone staying safe and everyone doing the things in the best interest of their families because we’re in a different world today,” Lamoriello added.
On Tuesday, the NHL – which paused play on March 12 – extended its self-quarantine period for its players through April 15. President Trump has extended nationwide social-distancing guidelines through April 30.
Lamoriello said Barry Trotz’s coaching staff and the training staff has been in constant communication with the players to monitor their workouts.
“The other thing they have to work on is staying convinced that we’re going to play and keeping themselves motivated in a way that they don’t wait until the last minute,” Lamoriello said.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has repeated the league is willing to extend play deep into the summer but does not want to compromise playing a full 2020-21.
Lamoriello acknowledged, at some point, it may become too late to restart this season.
“Without question,” Lamoriello said. “But I think Gary Bettman and his complete staff and the hockey people certainly are aware of all of that. And all of that is talked about daily in many contingency plans. I’ll leave that up to them to do that. We all, individually, have our own idea of when and where the last day is. Right now, that’s not the thought process. Right now, the thought process is using this time as productively as possible to be as ready as possible.”
That’s unlikely to include signing restricted free agents Mathew Barzal and defensemen Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews to new deals before it’s officially the offseason.
“There are so many unknowns right now,” Lamoriello said. “ Should we not play – I don’t have that thought process in my mind, but you have to prepare for it – what will happen with the [salary] cap? What will happen with the payroll for next year? All those things have to be kept in your mind.
“We want them back and will do everything we can to get that done at the right time.”
The Islanders were on an 0-3-4 slide when the season was paused and had gone 2-7-4 since Feb. 11 to fall out of a playoff spot.
“We did lose our way there near the end,” Lamoriello said. “But I have total confidence in our coaching staff that we’re going to come back ready to go.”
The Islanders, like all NHL teams, are getting healthier during this stoppage.
Casey Cizikas and defenseman Johnny Boychuk, both cut by skate blades, are ready to return. Defenseman Adam Pelech (Achilles’ tendon), out since Jan. 2, is also improving.
“His recovery and rehab has come along fantastic,” Lamoriello said. “He has not, at this point, skated. But I do not believe it’s too far away that he will be allowed to skate. We will not put him in any harm’s way until he’s 100 percent. There’s an unknown there.”
Lamoriello also said, “We’re not concerned right now,” that construction being forced to stop on the arena at Belmont Park will impact the timetable to open the team’s new building for 2021-22.