Either way, Matt Martin felt he would be leaving family behind.
Still, the longtime Islander said on Friday he did not consider opting out of the NHL’s return-to-play plan. His wife, Sydney, gave birth to the couple’s first child, Windsor Grace, on Tuesday. Players had until 5 p.m. on Monday — the first day of formal training camps — to opt out without penalty.
“Honestly, not at all,” Martin said. “First and foremost, Sydney is totally on board for me to play. I want to play. Both of our families want me to play. We sign contracts. We’ve got a job to do and this is the most fun time to play. I’m going to be away. I’m going to miss Winnie, I’m going to miss seeing her. At the same time, if I didn’t play, I’d miss being around the guys. I’d miss playing and be missing out on a great opportunity to win the Stanley Cup.
“Hopefully when this is all said and done, we’ll be able to drop Winnie into the top of the Stanley Cup, take a picture and it will be a very memorable moment for her.”
The Islanders, seeded seventh in the Eastern Conference, will face the 10th-seeded Panthers in a best-of-five qualifying series that begins on Aug. 1 in Toronto.
Players’ families can join the quarantined arena/hotel bubble for the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Final, all scheduled to be played in Edmonton.
“I don’t know what Sydney would do in that situation,” Martin said. “I’m not sure she’d come to the conference final. The Stanley Cup Final is a little different ballgame. It’s a fluid situation. Life goes on. You’ve got to continue to do your job. I plan on going and doing my job and hopefully doing it effectively.”
Added coach Barry Trotz, “We asked every player to talk to their families and their wives so they’d feel comfortable. This is going to be a test mentally, physically and emotionally. It’s really important that the players’ minds are free and clear to make the right call for them. We’re going to need the whole person to be invested — mentally, physically and emotionally — to have success.”
Martin, an integral part of the identity-setting fourth line, had five goals, three assists and 40 penalty minutes in 55 games when the season was paused on March 12 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Martin’s trio with center Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck was intact for only 19 of the Islanders’ 68 games.
Martin was out for nine games from Oct. 27-Nov. 19 with a leg injury. Clutterbuck missed 30 games from Dec. 21-Feb. 27 after being slashed on the left wrist by a skate blade. Cizikas missed the last 13 games before the season was paused — the Islanders won just twice in that span — after a skate blade lacerated his left leg on Feb. 11.
“We had five weeks of skating here before camp even started,” Martin said. “Casey is such a big part of our hockey team. We didn’t get to play a lot of games together this year. We’re excited to get right into a playoff scenario. It’ll be nice to come right out of the gates with an all-or-nothing mentality right from the start. Hopefully our line can have a big impact on the playoffs.”
Trotz said assessing the trio’s progress during practices is difficult.
“They’re not as good in scrimmages, they just aren’t, because they aren’t running people over,” he said. “You’re seeing a kinder, gentler side when it comes to letting people off the hook. A lot of their effectiveness is not letting people off the hook.”