Yesterday was a very good day if you’re the New York Islanders.
Not only did the organization get the green light to resume construction on their future home at Belmont Park — still slated to be ready by the start of the 2021-22 season — but general manager Lou Lamoriello revealed the exciting news that d-man Adam Pelech would be ready for when the team would begin training camp as a part of the NHL second phase of the NHL’s Return To Play Plan.
“Adam is cleared to participate in the small number of people that are allowed on the ice as if the injury never took place,” Lamoriello told reporters via a conference call.
Pelech, 25, suffered an Achilles Tendon injury prior to the Isles’ contest with the New Jersey Devils back on January 2. The setback led him to miss the rest of the season before it was postponed in mid-March due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“He has clearance, so does Casey Cizikas,’ Lamoriello added. “There are no injury of any player that I am aware of that should hold them back from participating immediately.”
The development of Pelech being healthy for the start of next year was one of the major things Islander fans had been worrying about even before the season was suspended. He is regarded as the Isles’ best defenseman and their most consistent presence on the backend. And the effect of him missing easily took its toll on the team.
Before his injury, the Islanders were 25-10-3 with Pelech in the lineup this season. After, they went a measly 10-13-7 and went from one of the top teams in the East to almost falling out of playoff contention.
Having Pelech back means that head coach Barry Trotz has his top defensive pairing back with him and Ryan Pulock; the pairing is one of the most underappreciated around the league. It also allows the pressure to be taken off some of the veterans like Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk. Those two seemed to struggle with the workload once Pelech was out. And last, Andy Greene can settle into the number-six spot on the blueline. Lamoriello made it abundantly clear that he traded for Greene because of Pelech’s absence in the top-four. Greene did a nice job since he’s come on the scene, but now he’will get the chance to play a role he can truly shine in.
Beyond Pelech, there are other reasons why the Isles being fully healthy could make them very dangerous if and when they step on the ice to face the Florida Panthers in the qualifying round of the playoffs.
Trotz will be able to roll all four lines again
No team in the entire league needs to be at full health more than the Islanders do. Because they lack those skill guys on offense and their defensive style, they need all four lines going to be successful. The results in the past have proven in the past when they have four complete lines, they are a very hard team to play against. Having all four lines rolling will allow Trotz to not have to rely on just one or two lines to produce all the offense.
The fourth line fully intact
This factor might rank right next to Pelech for how crucial they are to the Isles being a complete team. Back when the season was put on hiatus, Trotz made it clear that not having Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, and Casey Cizikas together for a lot of this year had a significant effect on the team. That trio is so crucial to the identity of the team and the way they are expected to play, especially Cizikas. Cizikas, who suffered a leg laceration in February, is the hardest working player on the ice and a crucial part of the Islanders’ special teams.
The top guns and the veterans will be rested and re-motivated
Yes, it will have been four months since they played a game, but the players the Islanders depend on most for production will have had the time to reset and will be revving to go. Mathew Barzal was carrying the club for a number of weeks leading up to the hiatus with Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle. Those three will have the chance to pick up right where they left off. Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, Derick Brassard, and Anthony Beauvillier all slowed down after the team’s fantastic run to begin the year. They, too, will get the opportunity to step their games up in the biggest way.
J.G. Pageau, who joined the team at the deadline, will also have had the chance to get more involved with the organization and his new teammates, which is very crucial.
A bolstered defense and a goalie with a chip on his shoulder
We mentioned before about Pelech returning and what it means, but in terms of the whole defense, the entire unit will be able to play to their strengths once again. The Islanders had difficulty sticking to their defensive gameplan in the second half of the season, and a lot of it was because their defense wasn’t full and got outworked. So, having all six guys on the same page can give the Isles an advantage they were known for.
For Semyon Varlamov, he’ll get his chance to show he can be a playoff performer. He hasn’t appeared in the postseason since 2014, and it wasn’t a memorable experience either — seven games, 20 goals allowed. Varlamov was having a pretty good campaign until the wheels fell off for him and the team, which should be another incentive for him to come back motivated.
There might not be another coach you’d want to have as the one leading you back into battle after such a long time between games. Trotz proved he was able to have this team ready and not suffer a lull this season after they got to the second round of the playoffs last spring. Oh, and how he was able to navigate all those injuries dealt? He’s showed once again just how valuable he is to the entire fabric of the organization. Make no mistake, he will have the Islanders ready for when the games begin again.
A clean slate
Throw out the 16-3-1 start. Throw out all the major injuries. Throw out the 0-4-3 skid before the season was almost canned. It’s a new season now for the Islanders, and the games mean more now. The playoffs are a total crapshoot, and the Isles have just as good a chance of making a deep run as any team in the Eastern Conference. You give a team a renewed sense of purpose, and there could be something special that might come out of it. That’s what the Isles are getting, and they have the opportunity to take full advantage of it.
Now, can we get to training camp already?