Although the New York Islanders finished 6th of eight teams in their division during the 2019-2020 regular season, they got hot at the right time and rode it to the Eastern Conference finals when they lost in that stage against rivals Tampa Bay Lightning. One reason for their climb was the play of center Mathew Barzal, who led the team with 60 points on 19 goals and 41 assists and added an additional 17 points during the playoffs.
The potential problem for the Islanders moving forward is that Barzal, a restricted free agent, remains unsigned as training camp opened. Coach Barry Trotz doesn’t seem all that concerned, just is focusing on moving forward with whoever is on the ice. After all, some players may opt out or be injured, or not pass Covid-19 tests. All Trotz is concerned about is who is on the ice at the time and make sure those guys work hard and are ready to go come opening day.
The season starts for the Islanders on January 14th against state rivals, the New York Rangers. The Islanders have other options that Trotz can use, such as Brock Nelson, Casey Cizikas, Austin Czarnik, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Otto Koivula. However, it’s difficult to replace someone of the 23-year-old Barzal’s stature and Trotz knows it. At the same time, Barzal’s absence could open the door for one of the above to shine.
Team captain Anders Lee is convinced that Barzal’s situation will be worked out and he’ll be back in the mix sooner instead of later. Barzal was on the line with Lee and Jordan Eberle and has scored 207 points on 59 goals in 234 regular season games. Eberle is also confident that Barzal will be signed, indicating that he knows that Barzal loves playing with the organization. Even general manager Lou Lamoriello isn’t all that concerned about the situation.
That is good news for the Islanders, because without Barzal, the team will struggle on the offensive end, putting that much more pressure on the defense. The long-term success for the Islanders is dependent on having Barzal in the mix, sooner instead of later.