There was good news and better news for Islanders fans on Wednesday.
A day after the NHL announced its plan to return with a 24-team playoff format, general manager and president Lou Lamoriello said on a conference call everyone on the roster – that includes top defenseman Adam Pelech, out since Jan. 2 with an injured Achilles tendon – are healthy and ready to return once workouts begin, possibly in early June as part of the league’s Phase 2 reopening. Lamoriello also announced that construction on the arena at Belmont Park has resumed.
It was a mostly optimistic 30-minute call in which Lamoriello expressed confidence in the plan set forth by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman — the No. 7 Islanders would face the 10th-seeded Panthers in a best-of-five qualifying series under this plan — and expressed his belief that the league and the players’ association are doing all they can to give fans a full postseason in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“In my opinion, the league and the union have done a tremendous job in coming up with the best possible scenario they could to satisfy all the individual situations of each team,” Lamoriello said. “I’m totally supportive of what the results were and just excited we have a template to get back, certainly knowing a lot of details have to be worked out. Until they’re done, we won’t have a full picture of everything. But we’re looking forward to getting started and playing.”
As Lamoriello said, there are details left to be resolved, including the length of the first two playoff series after the qualifying round, which two hub cities the games will be played in and the dates of the contests. But he wouldn’t define those as negotiations, just plans that have to be finalized.
Once play can be resumed, the Islanders are expecting to be at full strength, a significant development for a team that struggled prior to the season’s postponement on March 12, going 0-3-4 down the stretch. Getting Pelech back would be a major boost, as would the return of center Casey Cizikas (leg laceration) and defenseman Johnny Boychuk (eye laceration).
“Certainly, he is a valuable piece to our team,” Lamoriello said of Pelech.
As for the Belmont arena, Lamoriello said the expectation is they are still on target to open there in October of 2021 as originally planned after construction resumed on Wednesday. It was temporarily halted on March 27 due to the coronavirus.
“It’s a great sight that’s happening and the most comfortable feeling is we were ahead of schedule when this all took place and do not believe there will be any hiccups or delays of when we’re supposed to be open,” he said.