Islanders GM Lamoriello ‘supportive’ of NHL return plan
Return to Play Plan places Isles in best-of-five series
New York Islanders President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello isn’t quite sure when his playoff-bound team will be able to regather and resume full practices at the team’s facility on Long Island.
But the Hall of Fame executive, who has more than three decades of NHL front-office experience, does believe the league got it right this week when it announced plans to restart the 2019-20 campaign at some point later this summer.
“The league has done a tremendous job in coming up with a best possible scenario that they could to satisfy all of the individual situations of each team,” Lamoriello said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
“I’m totally supportive of what the results were and just excited that we have a template to get back.”
That template features a 24-team playoff format, one that would pit the Islanders in a best-of-five qualifying-round series against the Florida Panthers at a yet-to-be-determined site.
There are 10 potential hub cities — Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver — where the league may resume play at some point without fans, though Brooklyn and Uniondale, N.Y., did not make the cut.
The Islanders, who have been idle since the league halted play due to the novel coronavirus on March 12, have used their time off to get healthy, according to Lamoriello, who indicated that the team “will have every player available” when and if the campaign continues.
But Lamoriello wasn’t sure when the Isles, many of whom traveled back to their homes across the continent and globe, would all be back in the tri-state area to begin training in earnest for their run at the Stanley Cup.
“There are a lot of arrangements and travel situations, immigration, that has to take place,” Lamoriello said, noting that the earliest the NHL could open full training camps was no earlier than the first half of July.
“I prefer not to get into who individually is on their way, or who isn’t, until we know everything,” he added. “Certainly individual preparations as of the announcement are currently underway.”
The Isles were mired in a season-high seven-game losing streak and stood one point behind Columbus and Carolina for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference when play was halted.
The Return to Play Plan, however, wiped out the remaining 14 games on their regular-season schedule, including what were scheduled to be the team’s final two games ever at Downtown’s Barclays Center on March 17 and 22.
The expansion of the playoff format from 16 to 24 teams put the Isles right back into the postseason for a second straight year after the team advanced to the Eastern semifinals a season ago before bowing out to Carolina.
Though there is excitement buzzing around the area following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement Sunday that local sports teams can begin opening their training facilities, Lamoriello knows having a plan in place and doesn’t necessarily provide a clear path for his team to return to the ice.
“There are a lot of details that have to be worked out,” he readily ceded. “Until that’s done, we won’t have a full picture of everything, but we’ll proceed and are looking forward to getting started and playing.”
The Isles, who are slated to play all of their regular-season home games at the Nassau Coliseum next season after using Barclays Center as both a full- and part-time home since 2015, also got some good news regarding their still-under-construction arena in Elmont, N.Y.
The state-of-the-art facility, which is adjacent to Belmont Park, has officially resumed construction this week after remaining idle since March 27, when New York paused work on non-essential buildings.
If all proceeds as planned, the Isles would move into the Belmont Arena in time for the start of the 2021-22 season.
“It’s a great sight that it is happening,” Lamoriello said of the construction restart.
“The most comfortable feeling is that we were ahead of schedule when this all took place and that I do not believe there will be any hiccups as far as the delay of when it’s proposed to be open and that’s great news.”
If only Lamoriello and the rest of the Isles could say the same for the NHL’s potential resumption, which still relies heavily on COVID-19 conditions, the league’s testing ability and government regulations.
In other local pro sports news, the Brooklyn-based New York Liberty, whose inaugural season at Downtown’s Barclays Center has been postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, announced Wednesday that they have waived veteran forward Reshanda Gray.
“On behalf of the New York Liberty organization, I would like to thank Reshanda for being a true and consistent competitor as shown night in and night out in front of New York Liberty fans last season,” said Liberty General Manager Jonathan Kolb.
“We wish her the best moving forward.”
Gray, a 6-foot-2 forward, re-entered the WNBA for the first time in three seasons in 2019, appearing in 34 games for New York while averaging 5.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Additionally, Chinese center Han Xu and French guard Marine Johannés, both of whom played for the Liberty as rookies last season, will remain overseas for the 2020 season and re-join the team in 2021.
In light of game scheduling changes in her home country due to COVID-19, Han, who was drafted 14th overall by New York in 2019, will be unable to report for the 2020 WNBA season.
Johannés will not report for personal reasons.
“The team is in close contact with both players and looks forward to welcoming them back for the 2021 season,” the organization said in a team-issued release.
Johannés appeared in 19 games during her rookie WNBA season, averaging 7.7 points and 2.4 assists per game.
Han, a 6-foot-9 center, appeared in 18 games, averaging 3.0 points and 0.8 rebounds.
The WNBA announced on April 3 that the 2020 training camp and regular season will be postponed as developments continue to emerge around the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the league continues scenario-planning for new start dates and innovative formats.
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