Lou Lamoriello has been a hockey coach and/or executive for more than a half-century, but he never has experienced anything quite like this. No one has.
“It’s a learning process every day,” the Islanders’ president of hockey operations said Monday on a conference call with reporters. “It’s something totally different. It’s almost like going to a movie that you felt would never happen.”
“It,” of course, is the COVID-19 pandemic that caused the NHL to “pause” its season on Thursday, with no firm idea when or if it will resume.
That has left Lamoriello and everyone else in the sport in limbo, planning for an uncertain near future.
There was a sliver of clarity on Monday when the NHL and players’ association told players they could leave for their offseason homes if they wish but asked that they self-quarantine wherever they are through March 27.
The league also is not expected to reopen practice facilities at least until late April, presumably meaning the season could not restart before May.
Lamoriello said that as of Monday no player whose primary residence is outside Long Island had chosen to leave, but that several were considering it, including some based in Europe.
“There are a couple of players who are scheduled to go but could decide at the last minute not to go,” he said. “So we’ve made arrangements with the potential of going.”
Lamoriello said some members of the organization have been tested for the coronavirus, but that they made the decision voluntarily and he had no idea of the results.
Mostly, Lamoriello is in the same boat as the rest of the league – and world – in trying to react to a fluid situation. “It’s just the world we’re living in right now,” he said.
He said he is preparing for various outcomes, including a return to play this season or not returning this season and moving directly into offseason mode.
“As far as offseason preparation, there are so many questions that have to be answered,” he said. “We have more questions than answers.”
One answer Lamoriello did have pertained to whether the Islanders have played their last game in Brooklyn. It appears that they have.
He said if the season resumes after the final scheduled game at Barclays Center, the intention would be to play all remaining games at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
The final Barclays game had been scheduled for Sunday. “So that would be a moot point at this point,” he said.
As for whether the pandemic will affect the opening of a new arena at Belmont Park in the fall of 2021, Lamoriello said:
“It’s my understanding that they are still working, but I do not have any knowledge one way or the other and I don’t think anyone does, because I believe that will be something driven by the government and the state as to where the restrictions are in certain areas of work.”
Speaking of work, Lamoriello said that while the team has no direct control over paying most game-day workers at the Coliseum or Barclays, neither of which the team owns, he is “extremely comfortable” that those facilities will compensate people for lost wages.
He said that for game-day employees that are paid by the Islanders, “we have a responsibility to compensate” them and that they will be made whole for lost work.
If the NHL resumes by going directly to the playoffs, it is unclear what the Islanders’ status would be. At present, they are one point out of a playoff spot, but if the league were to determine playoff teams based on percentage of possible points earned, the Islanders would sneak in as a wild card.
“I don’t think that there is anything that has come out of the league with reference to what potentially might happen or might not happen,” Lamoriello said.
Lamoriello was speaking from his office at the Northwell Health Ice Center, which is closed to the public, but said he was in a “confined” area. He said the Islanders were given permission to access their offices if need be.
The team’s business office in Floral Park has directed employees mostly to work from home, he said.
Lamoriello said the team’s primary concern is the safety of its employees and their families, and that they are in communication with medical professionals regarding best practices.
He said that secondarily, the team is making sure players stay in shape and healthy wherever they choose to work out, since that cannot be done at the Islanders’ facility until further notice, per league directive.