It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of one little semi-suburban hockey team don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. So this needs to be kept in perspective. We all get that.
But nevertheless . . .
It’s OK to feel bad for the Islanders and their fans about a season so spectacularly fouled up and ill-timed that it boggles the mind.
Was some sort of Faustian bargain hit during those thorough Stanley Cup playoff runs in 2020 and ’21 that has not been before reported, with the bill now due?
Has a Rangers fan infiltrated the weekly meetings of the hockey gods?
This was the season the Islanders had been aiming at for years, with a chief of players who have been together for a long time, carefully engineered to help the team build, market and finally open its new arena.
All was going extraordinarily well for a while.
With Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz in charge and players doing their jobs on the ice, the Islanders came within two victories of the Cup Final in ’20 and one in ’21, navigating pandemic hockey life in addition as any team in the NHL.
Now this. The Islanders are a last-place team that never plays. That’s a bad combo.
(Before going further, observe that in any case is going on in Trotz’s life that has caused him to take a personal leave is not part of this discussion about insignificant hockey. Best wishes to him and his family.)
Need we go by all the gory details here? OK, briefly:
The season-opening stop-and-start 13-game road trip. The UBS Arena premiere tarnished by a wave of COVID-19 positives that rippled long afterward.
The too many overtime and shootout defeats. The 11-game losing streak. The erasure of an complete four-game West Coast swing to preserve ticket revenue in limited-attendance Canadian cities.
You know it all too well.
It must be excruciating for the Islanders to stand by the side of the rink watching the hockey parade skate by, with some teams seemingly having a grand old time.
Take, oh, let’s just pick a team at random: the Rangers!
While the Islanders had their trip to the Pacific Northwest this week postponed, the Rangers are visiting Vegas and California, having gotten Seattle, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary out of the way two months ago.
The surging Rangers are almost by with Canada and its complications altogether, having played seven games there by Nov. 18.
Meanwhile, the Islanders keep on ice, literally, reduced to practice drudgery in East Meadow.
That is where they were on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, prepping for a game against the Devils more than a week away, before taking Thursday off to . . . watch hockey on TV, maybe?
After Wednesday’s skate, I asked Mathew Barzal how the practice, practice, practice thing was going.
“I think we’re handing it really well,” he said, then lauded the assistants running things in the absence of Trotz. “The intensity has been high. We’ve been playing lots of games, lots of ‘compete’ drills, so I think our mindset is this isn’t a vacation or a break for us.
“We’ve been getting in shape . . . It’s been good to get some skating in at the end of practice to keep the lungs healthy, and I think we’re going to come out of this thing hopefully in good shape and ready to go.”
Said interim coach Lane Lambert: “They’re professionals. We’re only asking for a certain small period of time during the day for them to come to work, and they’ve done a really great job of it, they really have. The last three days have been very difficult and very successful, in my mind.”
Perhaps. We shall see when (or if) the Islanders start playing consistently again, at which time they will confront a busy schedule and a long climb to get back into playoff position.
It could happen. They nevertheless have plenty of ability, experience and leadership, and they should have a complete lineup back, pending Ryan Pulock’s return from an injury.
It will make for a heck of a story if they get at the minimum one game beyond where they were last summer.
For now, though, the thorough freeze continues.
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