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Islanders gear up for Toronto restart against Panthers

Best-of-five qualifier series set for Aug. 1

July 9, 2020 John Torenli
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The New York Islanders will be headed to Toronto later this month for the much-anticipated restart of their season, pending Friday’s ratification of the new collective bargaining agreement by the NHL Board of Governors and NHL Players Association membership.

The league and NHLPA agreed in principle Monday on a memorandum of understanding for a four-year extension of the NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement through the 2025-26 season.

The sides also agreed to resume play on Aug. 1 as part of protocols for Phases Three and Four of the NHL Return to Play Plan.

If the CBA is ratified prior to the weekend, the Islanders, who have been staging voluntary small-group workouts at the Northwell Health Ice Center on Long Island, could be opening training camp on July 13 ahead of traveling to Toronto, the hub city for the Eastern Conference playoffs, on July 26.

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The Islanders, who may return to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center next season after the shuttering of the Nassau Coliseum last month, are slated to meet the Florida Panthers in a best-of-five qualifier series, tentatively slated to begin Aug. 1 with no fans in attendance.

The current CBA, ratified in January 2013, was scheduled to expire Sept. 15, 2022. With this extension, it would expire Sept. 15, 2026, according to a league-issued release.

The NHL’s Return to Play plan originally named 10 potential hub cities for its restart in May after the COVID-19 pandemic halted play nearly four months ago with the Islanders sitting one point outside of the final two playoff spots in the East.

Toronto emerged as the host site for the East and Edmonton is expected to play host to the Western Conference playoffs, as well as the conference finals and Stanley Cup Finals.

Twenty-four teams will vie for the coveted trophy with 16 teams playing eight best-of-five series and a round-robin among the top four teams in points percentage in each conference to determine seeding.

The Isles, who have been skating on Long Island in groups of six and eventually as many as 12 since June 8, will finally be permitted to participate in full team activities on and off the ice when Phase Three begins on Monday.

“In addition, coaches, general managers and hockey operations personnel will be allowed to have direct interactions with players and conduct typical training camp activities while following preventative measures, including enhanced testing for COVID-19 and diligent hygiene practices designed to prevent the spread of the virus,” the league revealed.

For Phase Four, all 24 teams will travel to the two hub cities.

The Islanders were hoping to snap a seven-game losing streak (0-3-4) in Calgary, Alberta on March 12 when the season went on pause, canceling their final two scheduled games at Barclays Center on March 17 and 22.

The Nassau Coliseum, also known as NYCB Live, was expected to host all 41 Islander home games next season before the team moved into its still-under-construction new home arena adjacent to the legendary Belmont Racetrack in time for the 2021-22 season.

But Coliseum owner Mikhail Prokhorov, the former owner of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center, shut down the 13,000-seat facility indefinitely last month in the hopes of finding investors to take over the remaining $100 million in debt on the arena’s lease.

“The unforeseeable and unprecedented COVID-19 crisis has had a devastating effect on the operations of the Coliseum and its finances,” Prokhorov’s Onexim Sports and Entertainment Group said in a statement.

“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.”

After waiting nearly four months, Islanders head coach Barry Trotz and his players are expected to get back on the ice next month in Toronto. Photo: Julio Cortez/AP

That opened the door for Barclays Center to welcome the Isles back next season, marking the sixth consecutive campaign the facility has hosted all or at least half of the Isles’ home games since 2015.

Before they can start thinking about where they will play next season, however, the Isles must figure out how they will be housed in Toronto.

The teams are slated to stay in Phase Four Secure Zones, which will include hotels, restaurants, practice facilities and the arena where exhibition, qualifier and postseason games will be played.

Players, coaches, team and NHL personnel, arena and practice facility staff and vendors and service providers will be tested daily for COVID-19 and will have symptom screening as well as temperature checks.

Though they aren’t commenting on their upcoming trip North of the border before the CBA is ratified, the Isles have not been shy about expressing their desire to return to the ice.

“Personally, I want to come back playing and I want to compete for a Stanley Cup,” New York defenseman Scott Mayfield said last month following a training session at Northwell.

“You train all last summer, we play all season for a Stanley Cup,” he added. “Now, we get a chance to. We’re in a 24-team tournament to play for a Cup. That’s all I’m focused on.”

The Isles also will have had more than a month to focus on the Panthers, who they beat three times in as many meetings this season, including a 2-1 triumph on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush on Nov. 9.

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