In the mad dash that is preparations for the 2021 NHL season, the New York Islanders — like every other team — are forced to squeeze in a condensed training camp of just 11 days to properly ready their ranks before opening night, which comes on Jan. 14 against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
While head coach Barry Trotz has lauded the condition that his players have shown up to camp in, there have been some noticeable absences, particularly Mathew Barzal.
The star first-line center and restricted free agent is still without a new contract, meaning he can’t take the ice until his camp and the Islanders come to term on a deal.
That’s valuable time missed for the face of the franchise, especially with just one week before the season starts.
“If you’re going to start the season, you have to get going right away,” Trotz said on Wednesday. “We’ve grinded, we’ve done what we do as an organization, as a franchise, and how we play, I don’t know if you can replicate what we’re doing if you’ve been out for a while.
“We’re going to have live bullets in a week from now. It’s going to be tough for anyone who’s trying to catch up.”
Barzal isn’t the only absentee, but he is the most prominent. He’s led the Islanders in points in each of the last three seasons.
Trotz, Barzal’s teammates, and general manager Lou Lamoriello remain steadfast in their confidence that a deal with the 23-year-old will be struck sooner rather than later.
However, he’s now missed the first three days of on-ice work, including the Islanders’ first scrimmage on Wednesday, at training camp with just a handful more to go.
“You need to be in live action as much as you can and right now, the live action is the practices and scrimmages,” Trotz said.
In his absence, Jean-Gabriel Pageau centered the Islanders’ first line of wingers Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle.