New York Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky wasn’t worried in the slightest bit about the future of his star center, Mathew Barzal, with just a few weeks remaining before the start of the regular season.
Had things remained the same, the 25-year-old playmaker would be entering a contract year with little direction in terms of what lay ahead of him with unrestricted free agency a legitimate possibility.
Cue the flashbacks of losing John Tavares — the face of the franchise who had spent nearly a decade on Long Island and was destined to become one of its all-time greats before leaving via free agency in 2019 — after Ledecky and co-owner Scott Malkin’s second full season of owning the team.
Not this time, though. Barzal continued to praise the organization throughout training camp, which was volleyed back on occasion by president and general manager Lou Lamoriello. Therefore it really wasn’t much of a surprise when Barzal inked an eight-year, $73.2 million pact to stay with the Islanders for the long haul.
“I don’t correlate any of those. I think they’re completely different situations,” Ledecky exclusively told amNewYork on Thursday afternoon at the New York Stock Exchange to celebrate the Islanders’ partnership with Jackpocket as an official sponsor. “Mat has been very clear from the beginning that he loves the team, he loves the culture. He’s been very public about it.
“Hockey players are really smart, very intelligent, operate at a very high level. I think Mat was speaking from the heart and the head. The heart was I really like it here. The head said I really think we can win.”
But Ledecky made it clear that he doesn’t deserve any of the praise for securing one of the franchise’s most important talents on Long Island.
“I think the great thing is that ownership did not meddle on either account,” he said. “We let the people who are running the organization make those decisions.”
Most of those decisions are made by Lamoriello, who continues to carry the confidence of Ledecky despite the uncertainty that lies ahead for this Islanders team. Rather than make a big splash to potentially upgrade the roster over the summer, Lamoriello and his staff deemed a team that still has the bones of a two-time Stanley Cup semifinalist can still make a run at contention, despite missing the playoffs last year.
So is the course for Ledecky and Malkin since they purchased the team in 2014 and took control two years later.
“It’s very important in our organization to have a clear line of authority. That person is Lou,” Ledecky said. “There was no way we were getting involved in any of the negotiations on any specific player. We’re happy and delighted for Mat, we’re proud of Mat, we’re proud of what Mat has said about the team.
“The business side of Mat was represented by his agent and we were represented by our hockey operations people and that’s the way it should be in our organization.”
But will there ever come a time when ownership steps in?
Last year’s issues on the ice and the parting of ways with Barry Trotz during the offseason have made that a valid question going into 2022-23.
“I think generically, any team has a hierarchy and ultimately, results do matter,” Ledecky said. “You have one of the historically important Hall-of-Fame figures [Lamoreillo] that is running your organization that won the general manager of the year two years in a row, I think you have to give the respect and regard for the people who are running the organization to run it.
“But they’re responsible for the results. I’m not shooting the puck into the net.”
Still, Ledecky indicated that it would take an awful lot for him to step in and make his opinions felt about the hockey operations side of the organization.
“Any owner who decides to interrupt or interfere with the operations of their sports organization I think is not doing the right thing for the fans,” he said. “I think you have to give those people the freedom to run the team. I’m not going to be in there understanding the nuances of everything that’s being done minute to minute. That’s not my job.
“The job of ownership is to be a great steward of the team and to your point, if the team doesn’t win, then teams have to make decisions. But while a team is operating itself, an owner getting in the middle of it is not the right thing to do. So far, it’s worked out well for us.”