When the Islanders reported Sunday for their training camp physicals, their top scorer and best player, Mathew Barzal, was not there. Barzal, a restricted free agent, remained unsigned as of late Sunday, and he won’t be on the ice Monday when the team holds its first practice of the season.
If you listen to Islanders coach Barry Trotz, though, and Barzal’s teammates, there’s nothing to worry about.
"It's nothing unusual for us,’’ Trotz, with a straight face, said of Barzal’s absence on Sunday’s Zoom call with local media. "If we're missing a person here, that's part of NHL hockey and the world today. So, we're just going to worry about who we can put on the ice and worry about what we can do with them the next couple days.’’
According to Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello, Barzal, who led the Islanders in scoring in 2019-20 with 60 points (19 goals, 41 assists) in 68 games, is on Long Island and getting ready to attend camp, just as soon as he and the team can agree to terms. In his Zoom call with media on Thursday, Lamoriello said of Barzal, "It is our intention (and) his intention to be there. And hopefully that will happen.’’
Figuring out what the 23-year-old Barzal is worth in the COVID-19 era, however, with a flat, $81.5 million salary cap, has not been simple. The Columbus Blue Jackets and their 22-year-old RFA center Pierre-Luc Dubois, agreed Thursday to a two-year, bridge deal worth $10 million, with a $3.35 million salary in the first year and a $6.65 million salary in Year 2.
Whatever the final numbers end up being, Barzal’s teammates are confident a deal will get done eventually.
"I have all the confidence that it's all gonna come together when it's when it's supposed to,’’ forward Josh Bailey said. "I'm sure Barzy's ready to go and chomping at the bit. He's a huge part of our team and we're looking forward to when that day comes… hopefully soon.’’
"They’re gonna work this thing out,’’ captain Anders Lee said.
Jordan Eberle, said he has been in constant contact with Barzal, his linemate, and both he and Barzal are "confident something's gonna get done.’’
"I'll let him moreso touch on that, it's not really my place,’’ Eberle said. "But I know he loves being an Islander; I know he loves playing here; I know he loves this group, and this team, and I'm sure it's just a matter of time for something happens.’’
Until it happens, though, the Islanders have a huge hole in their lineup. Trotz said the Isles will press on without Barzal, for now. He likened it to dealing with a player missing because of injury, or COVID-19.
"As we know, there's going to be people in, people out – unpredictability,’’ Trotz said. "We'll continue to fill in those holes. So if someone's not there, we go forward. That's how we're built.’’
Trotz, talking to the media for the first time since the Islanders were knocked out of the Eastern Conference finals by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, was asked how long it took him to get over that loss.
"I have not gotten over the loss from the Lightning,’’ he said. "I don't think you get over those things very easily. If you do, there's a problem.
"You have to park it, and move on,’’ he said. "But … on my death bed, that'll be one of the visions of that will go through my head. We didn't beat the Lightning. It doesn't go away.’’
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