New York Islanders 2020-21 NHL season preview

New York Islanders 2020-21 NHL season preview
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The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we look at the New York Islanders.

New York Islanders 2019-20 Rewind

Record: 35-23-10 (80 pts.); sixth in Metropolitan Division; eighth in Eastern Conference

Leading scorers: Brock Nelson (26 goals); Mathew Barzal (60 points)

For another season, Barry Trotz’s Islanders defied expectations. They finished just two wins shy of an appearance in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, giving the eventual champion Lightning some real headaches.

If this trend continues, the hockey world will need to drop any pretense of the Islanders being “underdogs.”

Then again, there are still a few “Yes, but …” thoughts tugging at those threads, with varying degrees of force. Yes, the Islanders made a deep playoff run, but they also finished the regular season on the bubble. Before that pandemic pause, the Islanders dropped a troubling seven games in a row. They actually allowed one more goal (193) than they scored (192) through 68 contests.

Islanders fans will counter that the deep playoff run cemented their team as one to take seriously. And they’re right. But there’s still room for things to swing either way.

After indulging in trading and extending Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the Islanders felt a real salary cap squeeze. Crucial center Mathew Barzal still awaits a contract as an RFA. The team faces some uncertainty in net, as Thomas Greiss is out, while Ilya Sorokin is in. And we’ll find out soon enough how much the Islanders miss Devon Toews.

What should we expect from the Islanders in 2020-21? The answer likely varies from person to person, and even fan to fan.


Not much of note beyond Cory Schneider; due to cap questions, it’s not totally clear if Matt Martin and Andy Greene will return. But that’s the belief.


Devon Toews (trade), Thomas Greiss (free agency), Johnny Boychuk (retirement), Derick Brassard (free agency), Tom Kuhnhackl (free agency)

3 Most Interesting New York Islanders

• Ilya Sorokin: With Semyon Varlamov still around, it’s not as though Sorokin needs to jump straight into a starter’s role. Really, he’s most likely to either be a 1B or straight-up backup. That said, the Trotz-era Islanders have thrived with two good-to-great goalies. First, Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss sparkled. After that, Varlamov and Greiss carried much of that strong play over to last season.

Can a Varlamov – Sorokin partnership produce similar results?

To some extent, the argument is that Trotz’s system does much of the work for his goalies. That may generally be true, yet with some key losses on defense, Tortz may ask for more from his netminders. Previous duos set the bar pretty high.

• Supporting defensemen like Nick Leddy, Scott Mayfield: Personally, the loss of Devon Toews looks a lot more painful than Johnny Boychuk’s unexpected retirement. Boychuk enjoyed some great years in the NHL, but a long career of wear-and-tear showed even before he hung up the skates.

To replace Toews in particular, the Islanders will need to ask for more from other defensemen. To some extent, that might boil down to leaning that much more on Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech. Ideally, others like Nick Leddy and Scott Mayfield may be able to absorb some of that burden, too.

(Now, if this is all a way to take the training wheels off of Noah Dobson? That could be interesting …)

Wherever the excess workload falls, the Islanders face a challenging balancing act.

[MORE: 2021 NHL schedule notes: Stats, oddities, fuel for nasty rivalries]

• Oliver Wahlstrom: All of that said, you know what can help a team overcome certain losses on defense, and maybe in net? Scoring some goals.

As dazzling as Mathew Barzal can be, the Islanders also want to score by committee. Sometimes young players can make big jumps, so it’s possible that Wahlstrom gives the Islanders a shot in the arm as soon as 2020-21.

Then again, it’s not a guarantee that he’ll be a full-time NHL regular, either. But that makes him pretty interesting to watch.

Best-Case Scenario

It may not always produce the most exhilarating hockey, but Barry Trotz’s system works more often than it does not. Every year, Trotz gets that much more time to impart his defensive wisdom on this Islanders team, and it’s possible that everything will work in even greater harmony in 2020-21. Perhaps they’d get just enough offense, combined with stellar goaltending and that airtight system, and suffocate opponents enough to raise the Stanley Cup for the first time since the Mike Bossy era? (After surprising more than one, it feels foolish to question Trotz any longer.)

Worst-Case Scenario

What if Mathew Barzal echoes William Nylander and becomes the rare RFA whose negotiations linger into the actual season? That feels unlikely, yet as of this writing, there isn’t a contract. Even with Barzal — or with Barzal for most of the season — the Islanders could find themselves in a tough spot. To reiterate, this team sometimes operates on a thin margin for error. Without Devon Toews, and with an altered goalie duo, they could struggle a bit more in their own end. For all we know, that balance could be thrown off violently enough to knock them out of the playoffs altogether. If the Islanders missed the playoffs, but also didn’t get any lottery luck, their outlook could start to look pretty dicey. For every prime-age player like Barzal, there are some veterans whose windows could start to close. Not making the most of 2020-21 could really sting.

Pointsbet – New York Islanders Stanley Cup odds

Islanders +2200 (PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

    FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

    General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

    The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

    “I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

    Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

    The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

    A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

    DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

    “It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

    Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

    “We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”

    Training camps open around NHL after another short offseason

    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    Training camps open around the NHL after another short offseason, a third in a row squeezed by the pandemic. That doesn’t bother Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon one bit.

    For one of hockey’s best players and his teammates, it’s already time to get back on the ice and defend their Stanley Cup title, less than three months since they knocked off the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

    “I still feel like I just was playing,” MacKinnon said. “I took two weeks off, and then I started skating again. It’s just fun. I enjoy it, and I like the short summer. It feels like the season’s just kind of rolling over again.”

    The NHL rolls into fall coming off an entertaining playoffs and final with the chance to finally get back on a normal schedule. That means full camps for teams that got new coaches and the benefits of a regular routine.

    That means a mere 88 days between Game 6 of the final and the first-on ice practice sessions.

    “We’re kind of used to it now,” Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said after he and the Lightning lost in the final for the first time in three consecutive trips. “It’s a little harder, of course, because you don’t have that much time to rest. It’s basically a few weeks and you have to get back at it. But, yeah, I can’t complain. You want your summers to be short every year.”

    It was a little longer for Connor McDavid and the Oilers after losing to Colorado in the West final. Despite the lack of downtime, McDavid “wouldn’t trade that in for anything” and aims to make it even further since Edmonton shored up its goaltending situation by adding Jack Campbell.

    A few spins of the goalie carousel ended with the Avalanche acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and Cup winner Darcy Kuemper landing with Washington. Joining new teammates, many of whom hoisted the Cup in 2018, Kuemper is not worried about less time off.

    “It was definitely a very unique summer,” Kuemper said. “With how short it was, you start getting back into the gym and you’re kind of a little bit worried that your training’s going to be so short. But you kind of felt like you weren’t getting back into shape. You were already there.”


    The Oilers are one of several teams settling in for training camp under a new coach. Jay Woodcroft took over as interim coach in February but has the full-time job now.

    “Looking forward to a camp with him,” McDavid said. “He did a great job coming in during the middle of the season, but it’s never easy on a coach, for sure. I’m sure there’s things that he wanted to touch on that you wasn’t able to kind of in the middle of the year, so he’ll be able to to touch on all of it this year.”

    The same goes for Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, 11 months since being put in charge of the Canucks. Philadelphia’s John Tortorella, Boston’s Jim Montgomery, Vegas’ Bruce Cassidy, Dallas’ Peter DeBoer, Florida’s Paul Maurice, Chicago’s Luke Richardson, Detroit’s Derek Lalonde and the New York Islanders’ Lane Lambert are all starting the job fresh.


    Roughly 40 players are attending a camp on a professional tryout agreement with the chance to earn a contract for the season. James Neal has that opportunity with the Blue Jackets, and Derek Stepan returned to Carolina to seek a job with the Hurricanes.

    The most intriguing situation involves 37-year-old center Eric Staal, who agreed to the tryout with Florida the same time brother Marc signed a one-year contract. Younger brother Jordan was with Eric and Marc on the 18th green at Pebble Beach to witness the occasion.

    “They’re both just super pumped, as was I,” said Jordan Staal, who is the captain of the Hurricanes. “Eric is excited about the opportunity and Marc, as well. Really cool. Really cool thing.”


    Before the puck drops on the NHL season in North America on Oct. 11, the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks play twice in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8. And those are not exhibitions.

    “We still play two important games,” said Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, who is a native of Prague. “It’s not just preseason where you coming here to warm up.”

    Colorado and Columbus will also play two games in Tampere, Finland, on Nov. 4-5 as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

    And just as the league gets used to a regular schedule, work is ongoing between the league and NHL Players’ Association to stage a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, which is popular among players even if it knocks the calendar off kilter again.

    “I think they missed out on a huge, huge portion of the international game that’s really going to be missed,” McDavid said. “We need to figure out a way to get an international tournament in as quickly as possible.”

    Matthew Tkachuk, Panthers ready for 1st training camp together

    Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

    CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Aleksander Barkov was sound asleep at his home in Finland when the trade that brought Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers was finalized, which isn’t surprising considering it was around 4 a.m. in that part of the world.

    He woke up and read texts from friends reacting to the deal.

    And it wasn’t too long before he got a message from Tkachuk.

    “The first message was `(expletive) right’ and how he was excited to come to Florida,” Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, said at Florida’s media day. “`Let’s take this next step, let’s be a winning team for many years to come.’ That’s who he is. He wants to win. He wants to bring that character to this organization. And I think he’s done some damage already.”

    With that, Barkov was sold.

    And after a few weeks of informally skating with one another, the Panthers start the process of officially seeing what they have in Tkachuk when the team’s training camp – the first under new coach Paul Maurice – opens.

    “We’ve basically had everybody here for a few weeks,” Tkachuk said. “I feel like I’ve been in training camp for a couple of weeks. So today doesn’t feel that new to me. I’ve gotten to know everybody … so let’s get these games going. I’m sick and tired of just practicing and working. I want to start playing some games. I think everybody feels the same way.”

    Maurice was hired over the summer as well, inheriting a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and went to the second round of the playoffs — the first series win for Florida since the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

    He’s as eager as the players are for the first formal practice, calling it “our first Christmas.”

    “The house is bought. Most of the boxes are unpacked,” Maurice said. “I’ve got two kids that kind of came with me; one’s in Coral Gables, one’s in Estero. Their places are unpacked. They’re out of our house. Once you get down here, for me, you spend most of your days at the rink. So, experiencing all of South Florida, we haven’t gotten to that yet.”

    As part of the deal that went down on July 22, the 24-year-old Tkachuk signed a eight-year, $76 million contract. That’s not the only big cost that the Panthers had to agree to while executing the trade; they also sent Jonathan Huberdeau, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a left wing who had career bests of 42 goals, 62 assists and 104 points last season.

    “I wish all the best to Huby and Weegs,” Barkov said. “They’re great. Everyone loved them. Only good things to say about them. It happens, and for sure, it was best for the team and organization to do this. We move on, and we’ll get ready for a new season.”


    Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is Russian, still makes his home in St. Petersburg, and went there for the bulk of his offseason.

    He said it was not logistically difficult to travel there (or return to the U.S.) this summer, even as the war that started when Russia invaded Ukraine continues. Bobrovsky said last season that he was not trying to focus on anything but hockey, and when asked if it was difficult to be back in Russia as war continues he kept the same approach.

    “I had a good summer,” Bobrovsky said. “I saw friends, I saw family. It’s all been fine. I don’t want to talk about what’s going on. I’m not involved in that stuff.”


    Florida is opening camp with 56 players – 31 forwards, 19 defensemen and six goalies. That group includes brothers Eric Staal and Marc Staal; Marc Staal signed as a free agent in July; Eric Staal is with Florida on a tryout contract.

    Coyotes sign Barrett Hayton right before training camp

    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
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    SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes signed forward Barrett Hayton to a two-year contract right before the start of training camp.

    Terms of the deal were not released.

    The 22-year-old Hayton was a restricted free agent and not initially listed on Arizona’s roster for camp.

    Hayton had 10 goals and 14 assists in 60 games with the Coyotes last season, all career highs.

    Arizona drafted the Peterborough, Ontario native with the fifth overall pick of the 2018 NHL draft. He has 13 goals and 18 assists in 94 career games with the Coyotes.