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How the NHL’s 2020-21 Plans Impact the New York Islanders

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NHL fans at Nassau Coliseum

What the exact thought process is for the 2020-21 NHL season still remains up in the air, but information has started to slowly emerge at what hockey fans could be seeing when the puck finally drops.

Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed on Tuesday during a virtual panel that the NHL is looking into short-term hubs and realignment to start the new season. The league’s Board of Governors met virtually on Thursday and there was a report out earlier this week the league could present a plan in that meeting.

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Locally, what does this all mean for the New York Islanders?

The Islanders season ended in mid-September after falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals. Since then, like the rest of the NHL, the team has been waiting to see what happens for next season.

“It’s different. It’s almost like we’re back at the end of the year before the playoffs,” Ryan Pulock recently said about trying to train for next season with no firm start date. “Kind of that uncertainty and when we might start. What it’s going to look like. I think for myself it’s kind of just preparing for that early January date because no one knows.”

It would appear by all accounts that the NHL is fully invested in getting things going on or as close to that Jan. 1 date as possible. The number of games remains uncertain though it looks as though it could be anywhere between 50 and 72 according to reports in the New York Post and Sportsnet.

While the length of the season will impact every team, it won’t have the same direct impact on the Islanders as some of the other issues facing the 2020-21 season.

New York Islanders Unveil Color Scheme for Reverse Retro Jerseys

Hub Cities vs. Playing at home

It’s a big question for NHL owners and players. The NHL is weighing two options for the upcoming year, starting the season in hub cities with less stringent restrictions like they had in the playoffs or allow teams to play in their home rinks.

The hubs would be a shorter stay for teams and they would be rotated out, Bettman said during a virtual panel during the 2020 Paley International Council Summit.

“You’ll play for 10 to 12 days,” Bettman said, according to NHL.com. “You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need. It’s not going to be quite as effective as a bubble, but we think we can, if we go this route, minimize the risks to the extent practical and sensible. And so that’s one of the things that we’re talking about.”

For the New York Islanders that means, at least to start the season, they would not be playing at Nassau Coliseum and depending on where the hub city is fans won’t be in the building. For a league that makes a large portion of its revenue at the gate that would be a tough pill to swallow.

Nassau Coliseum, home of the New York Islanders

However, the idea that clubs may be able to play at their home rinks is also a possibility, but with the caveat that local restrictions might prohibit fans from being in the stands. Other states have allowed limited numbers of fans to attend NFL games this year, but COVID-19 cases have begun to spike in the New York area and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has implemented new restrictions across the state.

And the ban on fans in attendance for professional sporting events remains in place. If things remain the same, that would mean the Islanders would be playing in front of an empty Nassau Coliseum, at least to start the year, until restrictions start to be pulled back.

Divisional Realignment

One of the really interesting things that will come out of this whole situation will be a temporary divisional realignment. As of now, the border between the United States and Canada remains closed for nonessential travel meaning that the seven teams based north of the border won’t be able to travel back and forth for games.

That all leads to a likely all Canadian division for a period of time next season and a shift to a more geographic divisional alignment.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown,” Bettman said. “We may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, and that may make sense, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense.”

For the New York Islanders that means they could see Columbus and Carolina move to southeast type division, which would benefit the Islanders since both clubs have historically given New York trouble.

The Islanders are 63-69-9-7 historically against the Hurricanes.

However, it would mean they would see the Boston Bruins move into their division this season. Boston went 44-14-12 during the 2019-20 regular season and dismantled the Islanders in their final meeting of the year at Nassau Coliseum on a day they honored Butch Goring and announced that the final season before Belmont would be played on Long Island.

So while the Islanders would see two tough opponents moved to another division, they would still have to contend with a Boston Bruins team that is no pushover either.

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New York Islanders

Islanders Players React After Eye Injury Ends Johnny Boychuk’s Career

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Johnny Boychuk

It wasn’t too loo long after Johnny Boychuk announced he was ending his 13-year NHL career that the reaction from current and former teammates started to pour in.

Johnny Boychuk spent the past six seasons as a member of the New York Islanders and the guys he took the ice with on a nightly basis praised the 36-year-old defenseman for the person and player he was. Part of the legacy Boychuk leaves behind from his time on Long Island was just how important a leader he was in the locker room.

All of that showed as players reacted to the news on social media.

“It’s been an honor to share the ice with you,” Anthony Beauvillier wrote on Instagram. “Proud to call you a friend. You’ll truly be missed. Much love JB”

Others took to Twitter to wish Boychuk well in his post-playing days and share their memories of playing alongside him.

Even former Islanders netminder Robin Lehner took a moment to honor his former teammate.

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New York Islanders

Arnold: Johnny Boychuk Helped Change Perception, Culture of New York Islanders

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New York Islanders Defenceman Johnny Boychuk (55) during warm-up before National Hockey League action between the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators

Johnny Boychuk paused several times during his Zoom call with the reporters less than an hour after news broke that his 13 year NHL career had come to an end. The emotions of the moment getting the better of him for a second or two.

The often goofy Boychuk tried to remain his usual self, but the sadness of the situation was clearly visible as Boychuk discussed the previous few months and how an eye injury he suffered in March had led to the end of his playing days.

Johnny Boychuk looked back fondly at the past six years that he spent with the Islanders, where he appeared in 404 games and recorded 35 goals and 95 assists. He recalled how he spent a majority of that time partnered with Nick Leddy, who was acquired within hours of Boychuk back on Oct. 4, 2014.

And the 36-year-old defenseman discussed how his greatest memory of being an Islander was the people he came across.

“Meeting the people on the Island,” Boychuk started to say before pausing to regain his composure. “From the arena attendants to the security guards to the media. The players, the coaches, the staff. I mean the management, the owners. Meeting all these great people. There have been so many good memories. … It’s tough to process everything at one time.”

What became abundantly clear in the hours after Boychuk announced the end of his career was the place he holds in Islanders fans’ hearts.

Yes, Johnny Boychuk won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins and spent six years in Beantown, but some of his most significant contributions came during his time on Long Island. And the biggest was the faith he showed when re-signing with the Islanders in 2015.

The signing went well beyond just making the Islanders a better team, it helped start to chip away at the perception that Long Island wasn’t a place top-tier talent wanted to stay. What Boychuk, and subsequently Leddy, gave the Islanders was a sense of credibility back that they had been lacking for some time.

“I’d seen it before where guys would come to the Island and they would leave within a year or two,” Boychuk said on Wednesday. “When I got traded to the Island we had a good group of young players, but now they’re veteran players. They’ve got experience and I think a lot of guys see potential in the Islanders. It’s a good place to play, to be with your family and to have a bond together as a team. It will continue to just get better and better.

“I think the fans realized it. I didn’t realize it at the time when I first got traded, but after being there a year I realized what it was to be an Islander and you take pride in it.”

Boychuk made an indelible mark on the Islanders organization through leadership on and off the ice. He won over fans through his gritty style of play and give it all attitude. Boychuk left it all on the ice with every shift.

He nearly brought the roof down in 2015 during a desperation clear in the closing seconds of the second period of Game 3 of the Islanders First Round series against Washington. And there were plenty more moments like that throughout his time on Long Island.

Boychuk may have never won a Stanley Cup with the Islanders, but he helped change the culture and perception of an organization that needed it. While he may not be retiring on the terms he would have liked, Boychuk can take some solace in knowing the franchise is in a much better place now than it was when he arrived.

“I think everybody has seen the transformation of how the team did that to themselves,” Boychuk said. “With Lou (Lamoriello) and Barry (Trotz) coming in halfway through my time on the Island it’s just been getting better and better as well. It will continue to get better and better because we play together and we play for each other, and we always will.”

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Johnny Boychuk’s Career Ends Due to Eye Injury

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Johnny Boychuk

The NHL career of Johnny Boychuk came to an end on Wednesday after 13 seasons.

The New York Islanders announced that Boychuk’s time in the NHL had come to an end due to an eye injury he suffered during the regular season. Boychuk was clipped by the skate of the Montreal Canadiens’ Artturi Lehkonen on March 3 just above his eyelid.

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The gruesome injury required 90 stitches to repair the cut, but it did not preclude Johnny Boychuk from playing briefly during the postseason this year. While Boychuk did appear in three games during the playoffs over the summer, he did begin to feel the injury start to become an issue again.

“I kind of felt it in the bubble a little bit, but when I got out I started to work out and I really realized there was something wrong,” Boychuk said during a Zoom call Wednesday afternoon. “I went and got it checked out and after I got it checked out I let Lou know what was going on. It’s been two months of doctors and MRIs and X-Rays. It’s been a while.”

After months of tests and exams, the results Boychuk got back were eye-opening, he said during the call. Doctors told the veteran defenseman that his prereferral vision was “pretty bad” and that there was some optic nerve damage.

Doctors even went as far as to tell Boychuk that some of the damage to his eye was irreversible. The news was serious enough that it took any decision Boychuk was going to have right out of his hands.

“When somebody tells you you’re not going to play again or you shouldn’t or else you’re going to get seriously hurt it’s been really tough,” he said. “I don’t even think it was a decision. When you play with it and realize there’s something wrong and then you go and get tests. It wasn’t really a decision, it was a life choice.

“If I was to go play again and not being able to see somebody coming and getting hit, I could be a lot worse than what I was.”

While Boychuk’s career is coming to an end, the 36-year-old wasn’t quite sure if he was officially retiring or if he was being placed on LTIR. Boychuk had two years remaining on his contract and the Islanders would be able to use his $6 million cap hit if they put him on LTIR.

The Islanders have a mere $3.9 million in cap space with restricted free agent Mathew Barzal still unsigned.

“The injury is causing me to stop playing, so I don’t know if it’s retiring or LTIR,” Boychuk said. “I just know that it’s going to cause me to not play because it’s basically not safe for me if I can’t see things coming. For the future, I have no idea what to do because this has just been two months of going to doctors and I’m trying to think about what I can do after, but I’m not too sure yet.

“I want to be on the Island obviously. We built a house there, so there was no plans on leaving, but I just don’t know.”

Johnny Boychuk has spent the last six seasons with the Islanders, appearing in 404 games and recording 131 points (35 goals, 96 assists). He was acquired by the Islanders on Oct. 4, 2014, from the Boston Bruins in exchange for a pair of second-round picks.

Boychuk signed a seven-year contract extension later that season.

Prior to his trade to New York, Johnny Boychuk spent six years with Boston where he appeared in 317 games and won a Stanley Cup in 2011. In addition, Boychuk spent one season with the Colorado Avalanche.

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