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Islanders may head north of border for NHL restart

League reportedly eyeing Toronto and Edmonton as hub cities

July 2, 2020 John Torenli
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There is a possibility that the New York Islanders will be back at Downtown Brooklyn’s Barclays Center next season due to the shuttering of the renovated Nassau Coliseum two weeks ago.

As far as the remainder of this NHL campaign goes, however, the Isles are likely headed north of the border later this month.

Due to the recent spike in coronavirus cases throughout the United States, the league has shifted its focus to Toronto and Edmonton as potential hub cities for the planned NHL restart.

According to an ESPN report, those sites can’t be confirmed until players vote on the league’s return-to-play proposal. The vote is expected to take place later this week.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Either way, it is highly unlikely that domestic hub city candidates, which include Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Minneapolis/St. Paul, will be in play for the proposed mandatory training camp on July 10, a date that is already likely to be pushed back.

The Isles, currently skating in small groups at Long Island’s Northwell Health Ice Center under strict safety regulations, are locked into a best-of-five first-round playoff series against the Florida Panthers when and if the league resumes play for the first time since shutting down on March 12.

Though the league was hoping to keep one of the two hub cities stateside, presumably in Las Vegas, where COVID-19 cases have been spiking of late, it seems more and more likely that Canada will be the home of the NHL for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

On Monday, the league released the following statement on its ongoing testing results for the potentially deadly virus:

“As of Monday, June 29, the NHL has had in excess of 250 Players report to Club training/practice facilities for optional participation in Phase 2 activities. There have been in excess of 1,450 COVID-19 tests administered to this group of players. Those tests have resulted in a total of 15 players returning confirmed positive test results for COVID-19.

“In addition, since June 8 (the opening of Phase 2), the league is aware of 11 additional players who have tested positive for COVID-19 outside of the Phase 2 Protocol. All players who have tested positive have been self-isolated and are following CDC and Health Canada protocols. The NHL will continue to provide regular updates on the number of tests administered to players and the results of those tests.”

The Isles were 35-33-10 at the time of the league’s stoppage, leaving them one point shy of the final two postseason spots in the Eastern Conference.

But with the expanded 24-team playoff field, New York will be back in the postseason for the second consecutive season, a first since the franchise relocated to Brooklyn in 2015.

Downtown’s Barclays Center was thought to be the Islanders’ former home as recently as last month, but the arena is back in play as a potential home for the NHL franchise next season. Photo: Julio Cortez/AP

The NHL pause caused the cancellation of what many expected to be the Isles’ final two games ever at the Barclays Center on March 17 and 22 after general manager Lou Lamoriello indicated that the team would play all remaining home games both this year and next in Uniondale, N.Y.

That scenario didn’t last very long.

After last month’s closing of the team’s long-time home on Long Island, our borough is back in the fold as a potential home for the Isles next season in advance of their new state-of-the-art arena adjacent to the Belmont Race Track in Elmont, N.Y., being completed in time for the 2021-22 season.

“The unforeseeable and unprecedented COVID-19 crisis has had a devastating effect on the operations of the Coliseum and its finances,” said Coliseum and former Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov last month via a statement from his Onexim Sports and Entertainment Group.

“While we still believe in the enormous long term economic value of the Coliseum and the development of the surrounding land, we recognize that such value will be best realized by other parties.”

Before the Isles can worry about where they’ll be playing in 2020-21, however, they have to remain steadfast in their preparation for the restart of their current season.

“There’s a lot of boxes that need to be checked for us to come back and play,” Isles defenseman Scott Mayfield ceded following a voluntary group workout last week. “Personally, I want to come back playing and I want to compete for a Stanley Cup.”

As do the other 23 teams that will be joining the Isles in that pursuit later this month.

Now, it’s just a matter of confirming exactly where and when that chase for Lord Stanley’s coveted cup will begin.

“For me, I’m controlling what I can and that’s to be in the best shape and be ready to play if they tell me to come back and play a game tomorrow,” Mayfield said.

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