Islanders want to avoid another ‘terrible’ start to season

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EAST MEADOW, N.Y. (AP) The New York Islanders got off to a slow start last season and, despite a strong second half that followed a midyear coaching change, finished a point out of a playoff spot.

Now, Doug Weight has promised a hard camp as he heads into his first full season at the helm, hoping that will help the team get off to a better start.

“We know camp is going to be tough,” forward Casey Cizikas said. “Dougie’s been telling us that from the get go. … We gave away a lot of games last year where we could have got points and that’s what kind of impaired us at the end.”

The Islanders had just six wins in their first 20 games, and had stretches of improved play but struggled with consistency when Weight replaced Jack Capuano on Jan. 17 with the team last in the Eastern Conference at 17-17-8. The Islanders closed the season with six straight wins to finish 24-12-4 under Weight, who was hired on a permanent basis days after the season ended.

Missing the postseason by a point after the slow start stuck with the players in the offseason and many pointed to it as a motivating force.

“You think about it all summer,” veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. “Our start last year, it was terrible and we know that, and that’s why we weren’t in the playoffs.”

Captain John Tavares was looking forward to a full training camp after missing out last year while helping Canada win the World Cup of Hockey. With the departure of several longtime teammates and the additions of free agents Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera, the team struggled to develop chemistry and was juggling lines combinations through much of the first half of the season.

With the addition of forward Jordan Eberle in a trade with Edmonton, Tavares is looking forward to having the extra time to develop chemistry with his new teammate this year.

“Certainly it’s great to be here with your teammates that you’re going to be with all year from Day 1,” Tavares said. “Start the grind and build the camaraderie, that closeness you need to have success.”

Some other things to know as the Islanders head into their first day of practice Friday:

CAPTAIN’S CONTRACT: Tavares is still not signed beyond this season, but said he has not ruled out ongoing talks between agent Pat Brisson and team management during the season.

“I’m open to anything,” he said. “Communications are great. We’ll continue to keep that open, let the process continue to move along.”

The face of the franchise since he was selected No. 1 overall in the 2009 draft, Tavares is heading into the final season of a six-year, $33 million deal. He has averaged 33 goals and 41 assists the last three seasons, and his goal in the second overtime of Game 6 of the first round against Florida in March 2016 gave the franchise its only postseason series win since 1993.

LINING UP: Much of the focus in the offseason was on adding offense around Tavares. Though General Manager Garth Snow was unable to pry Matt Duchene from the Avalanche, Eberle should provide a big boost. The 27-year-old right wing has averaged 24.3 goals and 32.3 assists the last four years.

Though Weight hasn’t given any indication, the expectation is Eberle could replace Josh Bailey on the top line with Tavares and Anders Lee, who is coming off career highs of 34 goals and 52 points. The trickle-down effect will result in other lines being shuffled as well.

BETWEEN THE PIPES: Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak should give the Islanders a strong goaltending duo. Greiss took over as starter when Halak was waived and sent to minors on Dec. 31, but struggled down the stretch. Halak was called up and finished 6-1-0 with a 1.58 goals-against average as the Islanders made their late playoff push.

It’s unclear if Weight will name either the starter.

“Depends, too, on whoever plays good will play, I guess,” said Greiss, who was 26-18-5 with a 2.69 GAA while appearing in a career-high 51 games. “So just make sure you play well.”

YOUTH ON D: After trading longtime defensive stalwart Travis Hamonic to Calgary in the offseason, the Islanders will be turning to their farm system to fill the void. Adam Pelech, who appeared in 44 games last season, will likely get more playing time, and Ryan Pulock, who played in 15 in 2015-16, will get an extended look.

Scott Mayfield will be in the mix, too.

HOME SWEET HOME: The Islanders’ long-term arena situation remains unclear as they head into the third year at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center while eyeing the possibility of building a new home near Belmont Park.

However, they will be returning to their former home – the Nassau Coliseum, where they spent the franchise’s first 43 years – for the preseason opener Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen so many veterans say they want to play the first preseason game,” forward Cal Clutterbuck said.

Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

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The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

TORTS REFORM

Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

“I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

BIG MO

The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

“He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

PLAYOFF ROTATION

Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

“I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

“He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

“This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

LAMBERT ISLAND

Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

“Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

MORE NEW VOICES

The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

“He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.