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NHL stays with status quo as Canada pot legalization looms

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As Riley Cote took and delivered countless punches over more than a decade of junior and pro hockey, he was eager to avoid painkillers.

Early on, marijuana was touted to the enforcer as a healing option.

”I started noticing some therapeutic benefits,” Cote said. ”It helped me sleep, helped with my anxiety and general well-being.”

Now a handful of years into retirement, Cote is a proponent of cannabis and its oils as an alternative to more addictive drugs commonly used by athletes to play through pain. Marijuana can be detected in a person’s system for more than 30 days, is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency without a specific therapeutic use exemption and is illegal in much of the United States.

Canada on Wednesday will become the largest country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana. That means it will be available under the law in seven more NHL cities (it’s been legal to adults in Denver since 2012). The move is a step forward for those who, like Cote, believe marijuana has been stigmatized and should be accepted as a form of treatment.

”It was so tainted for a long time,” Ottawa Senators forward Matt Duchene said. ”And now people are starting to learn a little bit more about it and there is definitely some positive uses to different elements of it.”

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association plan no changes to their joint drug-testing policy, under which players are not punished for positive marijuana tests. It is the most lenient approach to cannabis by any major North American professional sports league.

”The Substance Abuse & Behavioral Health Program for decades has been educating players on using drugs, legal or illegal,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said. ”That process will continue and we will consider what changes, if any, in our program have to be made. But right now, we think based on the educational level and what we do test for and how we test, at least for the time being, we’re comfortable with where we are.”

While the NFL and NBA can suspend and MLB can fine players for multiple marijuana infractions, only a significantly high amount of the drug found in NHL/NHLPA testing triggers a referral to behavioral health program doctors. Cote estimated about half of players during his NHL career from 2007-2010 used some sort of cannabis for medicinal purposes, though players suggest use in hockey currently is lower than the population at large.

More than two dozen U.S. states allow marijuana use for a variety of ailments, but the federal government has not approved it for any medical use. Some players have already done research into the benefits of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) oils. There’s a curiosity about whether marijuana could one day replace or limit painkillers like oxycodone, even if players aren’t yet ready to make that leap.

”There’s not a lot of science out there yet in terms of long-term effects,” said Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele, who is still on the fence about cannabis use for medical reasons. ”I think it’s something that still needs to be thought really clearly about in terms of understanding the long-term effects.”

Through his Hemp Heals Foundation and work with Lehigh Valley University in Pennsylvania, Cote is doing his part to increase the information available. He’s quick to point to studies on cannabis that suggest it can help people after PTSD or head trauma. And yet he acknowledges there’s a long way to go.

”There’s a lot of different things that point to the fact that the science is now backing it up,” Cote said. ”There’s probably billions of anecdotal stories, but those don’t mean anything unless it’s backed by science, unless it follows the order of the way it’s supposed to be.”

Bettman contends the mainstream medical community has not concluded that cannabis prevents or heals injuries, and said an argument could be made to the contrary. NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said it’s a subject that is ”at best in its infancy and is going to develop over time.”

Given the looming Wednesday legalization in Canada, the league and union opted for education over policy changes.

”What we feel was an important element is at least educating the players better on the current marijuana landscape both from a legal and illegal perspective and what’s permitted and not permitted,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. ”But also ‘What are the products out there?’ because there’s probably publicly a great misconception of what marijuana is, how it’s used, what it’s used for to what the reality is.”

Players who aren’t yet educated about marijuana are willing to ask around about potential benefits as more studies are done.

”I say this more talking about the CBD side of it, obviously: You’d be stupid not to at least look into it,” Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. ”When your body’s sore like it is sometimes, you don’t want to be taking pain stuff and taking Advil all the time. There’s obviously better ways to do it. … You’re seeing a lot of smart guys look into it. You’re seeing a lot of really smart doctors look into it. If all the boxes are checked there and it’s safe and everything like that, then I think you would maybe hear them out.”

The possibility of experimenting with cannabis extracts is more possible in the NHL than for players with the NBA’s Toronto Raptors or MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays because of the regulations in those sports.

In the NBA, a second positive test carries a $25,000 fine and each subsequent test a suspension of five games, then 10 and so on. In baseball, a player on a 40-man roster could be fined up to $35,000, while a player not on a 40-man roster is subject to a 50-game suspension for a second positive test and 100 for a third.

A Raptors spokeswoman said it’s business as usual for the team because the new laws in Canada don’t change NBA drug policy. Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins also largely deferred to the league office.

”Major League Baseball does a good job on educating players across the game on risk in and around that,” Atkins said. ”It’s a complex situation that is very personal. I’d need more information to say if we’d just tolerate it or not.”

For now, marijuana is technically a banned substance as a drug of abuse in the NHL. Cote would love to see marijuana removed from NHL/NHLPA testing to open the doors to widely accepting it, though players say it would take years for hockey culture to welcome such a change – if it ever would.

”I played in Colorado where it was legal for a while and I thought it was going to change society a little bit, and it didn’t, really,” Duchene said. ”I don’t think it’s going to be as big a thing as people might think.”

AP Baseball Writer Ron Blum, AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds and freelancer Ian Harrison contributed.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

2020 NHL Awards: ProHockeyTalk’s ballot for the league’s major trophies

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The 2020 NHL awards will be handed out to the top players, coaches, and general managers around the league during the postseason.

In normal times the 2020 NHL awards would be given out during a big to-do in Las Vegas at the end of June. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the winners will be announced in two parts. Last week NHL awards such as the Masterton, Jack Adams, Selke, and GM of the Year, among others, were revealed during the NBC Sports pre-game shows before each of the Conference Finals games.

The bigger 2019-20 NHL awards such as the Hart, Calder, Norris, Vezina, and Lindsay will be handed out Monday night at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN (livestream) before the start of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The Pro Hockey Talk staff made our own votes for a collective ballot. Each place was given a numerical value with 5 points for first, 4 points for second, 3 points for third, 2 points for fourth, and 1 point for a fifth-place vote.

Votes were submitted by PHT writers Sean Leahy, James O’Brien, and Adam Gretz, as well as Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor, and Jake Abrahams, NBCSports.com Managing Editor of NHL content. All ballots were submitted before the start of the NHL Return to Play.

[NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule]

HART TROPHY (Awarded to the “player judged most valuable to his team.”)

PHT BALLOT
1. Artemi Panarin, Rangers (18 pts.)
2. Leon Draisaitl, Oilers (17 pts.)
3. Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche (14 pts.)
4. Connor Hellebuyck, Jets (12 pts.)
5. David Pastrnak, Bruins (7 pts.)
Connor McDavid, Oilers (7 pts.)
6. Brad Marchand, Bruins (4 pts.)

LEAHY: He was an expensive free agent signing, but proved to be an impactful one, finishing fourth overall in the scoring race with 95 points. The Bread Man had the most 5-on-5 points (71) and assists (46), and was a plus-40 in even strength goal differential when he was on the ice.

2019-20 PHWA Hart finalists: Draisaitl, MacKinnon, Panarin

***

NORRIS TROPHY (Awarded to the top “defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.”)

PHT BALLOT
1.
Roman Josi, Predators (23 pts.)
2. John Carlson, Capitals (16 pts.)
3. Victor Hedman, Lightning (14 pts.)
4. Alex Pietrangelo, Blues (9 pts.)
5. Charlie McAvoy, Bruins (6 pts.)
6. Jared Spurgeon, Wild (3 pts.)
7. Jaccob Slavin, Hurricanes (1 pt.)
Dougie Hamilton, Hurricanes (1 pt.)
Cale Makar, Avalanche (1 pt.)
Zach Werenski, Blue Jackets (1 pt.)

O’BRIEN: Carlson’s 10-point edge (75 to 65) over Josi will be tough to ignore, especially for more traditionally-minded voters. But Josi has blossomed as a player who’s better in all areas of the ice, including his own end — but also in transition, where he’s crucial at lugging the puck for the Predators. I don’t know how long Josi will be worth the $9M cap hit he’ll begin registering in 2020-21, but he was more like an $11M defenseman this season.

2019-20 PHWA Norris finalists: Carlson, Hedman, Josi

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[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

CALDER TROPHY (Awarded “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL.”)

PHT BALLOT
1.
Quinn Hughes, Canucks (24 pts.)
2. Cale Makar, Avalanche (21 pts.)
3. Adam Fox, Rangers (9 pts.)
Dominik Kubalik, Blackhawks (9 pts.)
4. Elvis Merzlikins, Blue Jackets (6 pts.)
5. Mackenzie Blackwood, Devils (3 pts.)
6. Victor Olofsson, Sabres (1 pt.)
Ilya Samsonov, Capitals (1 pt.)

O’BRIEN: This was a special season for rookie defensemen — already saying something a year after Rasmus Dahlin debuted — as Hughes faced competition from the likes of Adam Fox, not just the brilliant Cale Makar. But, while it won’t count toward the Calder, we saw that Hughes is special not just because of his offensive ability, but by being one of the best all-around defensemen right out of the gate. It really feels like these playoffs are a “passing of the torch” to great young defensemen (see also: Miro Heiskanen) and Hughes enjoyed a rookie year for the ages.

2019-20 PHWA Calder finalists: Hughes, Makar, Kubalik

***

VEZINA TROPHY (Awarded to the goalie “adjudged to be the best at this position.”)

PHT BALLOT
1.
Connor Hellebuyck, Jets (23 pts.)
2. Tuukka Rask, Bruins (20 pts.)
3. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning (11 pts.)
4. Ben Bishop, Stars (9 pts.)

LEAHY: Hellebuyck’s .929 5-on-5 save percentage was fifth-best in the NHL and his six shutouts were tops in the league. How valuable was he for Winnipeg? He helped the Jets win 31 of their 37 games during the regular season and he faced 37-or-more shots in 13 games, posting a .948 save percentage over that span.

2019-20 GMs Vezina finalists: Hellebuyck, Rask, Vasilevskiy

***

SELKE TROPHY (Awarded to the forward voted as “the best to excel in the defensive aspects of the game.”)

PHT BALLOT
1.
Ryan O’Reilly, Blues (22 pts.)
2. Anthony Cirelli, Lightning (15 pts.)
3. Sean Couturier, Flyers (13 pts.)
4. Patrice Bergeron, Bruins (11 pts.)
5. Phillip Danault, Canadiens (4 pts.)
6. Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche (3 pts.)
7. Valeri Nichushkin, Avalanche (2 pts.)
Mark Stone, Golden Knights (2 pts.)
Anze Kopitar, Kings (2 pts.)
8. Nick Foligno, Blue Jackets (1 pt.)

GRETZ: O’Reilly has become one of the NHL’s best all-around players and a cornerstone piece of what has become one of the best defensive teams in hockey. He plays big minutes against other team’s top players and not only shuts them down (no forward with a minimum of 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time this season was on the ice for fewer shot attempts against per 60 minutes), but he also plays a tough, physical game without taking penalties. It is an incredible — and very unique — combination.

2019-20 Selke Trophy winner: Sean Couturier

***

MASTERTON TROPHY (Awarded “to the NHL player voted to best exemplify the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”)

PHT BALLOT
1.
Stephen Johns, Stars (17 pts.)
2. Oskar Lindblom, Flyers (15 pts.)
3. Bobby Ryan, Senators (14 pts.)
4. Jacob Markstrom, Canucks (4 pts.)
Shea Theodore, Golden Knights (4 pts.)
5. Jay Bouwmeester, Blues (3 pts.)
Mark Letestu, Blue Jackets (3 pts.)

ABRAHAMS: When Johns returned to the Stars’ lineup in January following a 22-month absence, we knew he had been dealing with post-traumatic headaches, but there weren’t really any other details surrounding his time away from the game. Then, when this story from The Athletic was published in June, we learned that he had not only battled chronic pain, but also anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Johns persevered through those significant physical and mental health issues to resume his promising NHL career, and through making his story public, he hopes others dealing with emotional trauma or mental health will be encouraged to seek help.

2019-20 Masterton winner: Bobby Ryan

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JIM GREGORY GM of the YEAR (Presented to recognize the work of the NHL’s top general manager.)

PHT BALLOT
1.
Joe Sakic, Avalanche (23 pts.)
2. Kelly McCrimmon, Golden Knights (7 pts.)
Jeff Gorton, Rangers (7 pts.)
3. Lou Lamoriello, Islanders (5 pts.)
4. Don Sweeney, Bruins (4 pts.)
Julien BriseBois, Lightning (4 pts.)
Don Waddell, Hurricanes (4 pts.)
Jarmo Kekalainen, Blue Jackets (4 pts.)
5. Chuck Fletcher, Flyers (3 pts.)

ABRAHAMS: Sakic led the Avs to the second-best regular record in the West, despite significant injuries to a number of the team’s top players (an issue that arose once again in the playoffs). Though he inherited franchise cornerstones Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, he has assembled pretty much every other aspect of the roster. From drafting and developing Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar, to acquiring key pieces via trade such as Nazem Kadri, Samuel Girard, and Ryan Graves, to finding value in free agency with Joonas Donskoi and Pavel Francouz, Sakic has constructed a true Cup contender. Colorado also ranks among the league leaders in terms of available cap space, so they should be well equipped – at least, relative to other top teams – to sustain their championship window.

2019-20 GM of the Year winner: Lou Lamoriello

***

JACK ADAMS AWARD (Awarded to the NHL head coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.”)

PHT BALLOT
1.
John Tortorella, Blue Jackets (21 pts.)
2. Alain Vigneault, Flyers (16 pts.)
3. Bruce Cassidy, Bruins (11 pts.)
4. Jared Bednar, Avalanche (5 pts.)
5. Mike Sullivan, Penguins, (4 pts.)
6. Dave Tippett, Oilers (3 pts.)

FINEWAX: When the 2018-19 season ended, the Blue Jackets were left for the dead as they were on the verge of losing Panarin, Bobrovsky, Duchene and Dzingel. They lost all four and were considered a bottom-three team by many, but Tortorella put together his usual great system and had them on the verge of the playoffs the whole season. They beat Toronto in the play-in series and gave the Islanders all they could handle in a tough five-game series. But his work in the regular season was outstanding as the Blue Jackets had no business making the playoffs with their roster after losing so many stars.

2019-20 Jack Adams Award winner: Bruce Cassidy

***

LADY BYNG TROPHY: (Awarded to NHL “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability”)

PHT BALLOT
1.
Jaccob Slavin, Hurricanes (14 pts.)
2. Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche (12 pts.)
3. Ryan O’Reilly, Blues (11 pts.)
Ryan Suter, Wild (11 pts.)
4. Zach Werenski, Blue Jackets (8 pts.)
5. Miro Heiskanen, Stars (7 pts.)
6. Aleksander Barkov, Panthers (5 pts.)
7. Teuvo Teravainen, Hurricanes (4 pts.)
8. Brayden Point, Lightning (3 pts.)
9. Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs (2 pts.)

GRETZ: Slavin might be one of the cleanest players the league has seen in years. In almost 1,600 minutes of ice-time during the regular season, in a top-pairing role against the most skilled players in the world on a nightly basis, Slavin committed just five minor penalties for the entire season. Two of those minor penalties were delay of game puck over the glass calls. His other three penalties were a trip (the only stick infraction), a hold, and an interference. No high-sticking, no roughing, no hits to the head, no slashing. Just a clean, solid, by-the-book player that is one of the best players in the league at his position.

2019-20 Lady Byng winner: Nathan MacKinnon

Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Monday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Pre-game coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Continuing his improbable run in his first postseason as a starter, Anton Khudobin stopped 35 of 36 shots, including all 32 faced in the final two periods, backstopping Dallas to the series-opening win. The Stars broke the ice early in the first when Joel Hanley put in his first-ever NHL goal, but Tampa answered right back when Yanni Gourde tied things back up later in the period. It was all Dallas on the scoreboard after that, scoring twice in the next period, including rookie Joel Kiviranta getting his fifth of this postseason with 28 seconds remaining in the second.

Khudobin is 9-1 this postseason when making 30-plus saves in a game. With another 30-save victory, he’ll join Tim Thomas (14-3 in 2011 with Boston) and Kirk McLean (10-4 in 1994 with Vancouver) as the only goalies to have as many such wins in a single playoff (since 1955-56 when the statistic was officially tracked). His 22 saves over the final 20 minutes were the most by a goalie in any period of a Stanley Cup Final game during the NHL’s expansion era (since 1967-68).

Dallas outscored Tampa 1-0 in the third period despite being outshot by a 22-2 margin, becoming the first team in the NHL’s expansion era to outscore an opponent in a period of any postseason contest despite being outshot by a margin of at least 20.

Tampa last lost consecutive games on March 8th and 10th – its final two games before the NHL pause.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Monday, September 21, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (DAL leads 1-0)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.  

Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (DAL leads 1-0)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

***

SECOND ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

***

NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
Flames beat Jets (3-1)

***

FIRST ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
Stars beat Flames (4-2)
Canucks beat Blues (4-2)

What can Islanders do to take next step?

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The New York Islanders have come a long way in two years.

It was the summer of the 2018 when things were looking bleak. They had missed the playoffs two years in a row and were an afterthought in the NHL. Making matters worse, their franchise player (John Tavares) bolted in free agency for Toronto after more than a year of contract drama.

But during that same offseason the Islanders hired a Hall of Fame general manager (Lou Lamoriello) and the reigning Stanley Cup winning head coach (Barry Trotz). All they have done since is go from being the absolute worst defensive team in the league to one of the best, compile the seventh best record in the league over the past two regular seasons, and have more postseason success than the organization had experienced in nearly three decades.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Just for some perspective on how far they have come…

  • In the first two years of the Lamoriello-Trotz duo the Islanders have already won three playoff series and 14 total playoff games.
  • In the 24 seasons prior to that the Islanders won only one playoff series and only 16 total playoff games.

It is not even a case of Lamoriello overhauling the roster. If you look at the Islanders’ top-11 point producers from this season, 10 of them were players that were members of the organization before he arrived. His most impactful additions in the two years have been the hiring of Trotz, the signing of a new starting goalie each year (Robin Lehner last year, Semyon Varlamov this season), and this year’s trade deadline acquisition of Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

Outside of Varlamov and Pageau, this is mostly the same roster that finished with 80 points and missed the playoffs by double digit points during the 2017-18 season. The turnaround is a testament to the goaltending improvement (and they have Ilya Sorokin coming next season) as well as the stability and structure that Trotz has brought to the team.

And that is what Lamoriello and Trotz have brought. Stability and respectability.

All of it has gotten then closer to a championship than they have been in nearly 30 years.

Now that they are here, how do they not only stay here, but also take the next step?

Which Islanders team is the REAL Islanders team?

This is the big question that has to be answered, because we saw two very different performances from this team this season.

  • Through the first 20 regular season games the Islanders were 16-3-1 and were in the process of putting together a 17-game point streak (15-0-2).
  • They followed that up by going in the tank for the remainder of the regular season and were statistically one of the league’s worst teams over their final 48 games (19-20-9 record), while also finishing on a seven-game losing streak (as part of a 2-5-4 stretch).
  • Then they came out in the playoffs after the four-month layoff and just started dominating teams again (Florida, Washington, and Philadelphia), right up until they ran into Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final.

Just like the 2018-19 season, they found their success this season despite some ugly underlying numbers, which doesn’t seem to be a thing that is going to change with this roster or playing style.

It is important to point out that the Islanders did have some major injury issues during that middle part, with defenseman Adam Pelech being the biggest. His return in the playoffs was a huge factor, as was the arrival of Pageau via trade with the Ottawa Senators. They are excellent players, and having a full season of Pageau will definitely help.

They could still use another impact forward

They saw a nice spike in scoring this postseason, but this is still one of the weaker offensive teams in the league at both even-strength and on the power play.

Yes, their game is all about defense and goaltending. And yes they have found success with that the past two seasons. But there is still a lot to be said for adding another potential game-breaker to a lineup that really only has one of them (Mathew Barzal).

That is not to take away from some of their forwards on the roster because there are some really productive players there. But after Barzal there really isn’t another player that is going to consistently strike fear into an opponent.

The problem: Finding another player like that isn’t easy.

Internally, the Islanders’ top forward prospects are Oliver Wahlstrom, Kieffer Bellows, and Simon Holmstrom. Is there an impact player here? And if so, how soon?

The Islanders have $8 million salary cap space right now, but almost all of that (and perhaps more) is going to get eaten up by Barzal’s new contract (he is a restricted free agent). That means they will need to shed or hide salary somewhere else (and there are plenty of contenders for that).

On the free agent market Taylor Hall is the top forward available but he seems like a pipe dream given the salary situation (both his and the salary cap situation). Mike Hoffman or Evgeni Dadonov coming out of Florida could be intriguing.

Beyond that, it is slim pickings and you are looking into the trade market.

Hope Ilya Sorokin is the real deal

This one is pretty simple.

Great goaltending changes everything.

Islanders fans have been waiting for Sorokin for years now, and they will finally get a chance to see him next season. If he becomes the player they want him to be — and hope he can be — that gives them another outstanding goalie duo along with Varlamov.

Nothing cover up for shots against and below average offense like outstanding goaltending. If this guy is legit, the Islanders will be as well.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.