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Islanders Camp Opener: Managing fitness, newcomers, schedules

Also: The Sound Tigers are in a three-team division for 2021.

New York Islanders Training Camp
We are here and we are following protocol.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New York Islanders opened the on-ice portion of 2021 training camp of 38 players with all of their regulars except the unsigned Mathew Barzal, plus a bushel of extras who are candidates for the taxi squad and/or the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, who now find themselves in a three-team division for a most unusual 2021 season.

While the NHL announced official start times for the season’s schedule, here are some key topics after Day 1 of Islanders camp:

Practice? We Talking About Practice?

We are still in a pandemic, preparing for a condensed 56-game season, with altered rosters, divisions and farm teams, so the usual caveats about the opening days of training camp apply.

For his part, Barry Trotz confirmed the first three days will just be “fundamentals,” conditioning and systems, after which you can in good conscience overanalyze and the media “guys can quiz” him on the line combos.

He also said this camp will follow the model of the summer re-start camp, since they don’t have a lot of time and will not have much practice time once the condensed 56-game season starts.

That Said, the D Pairs...

Nonetheless, in the absence of Devon Toews and the Formal Graduation of Noah Dobson, the defensive pairs to begin are as you likely expected.

He referenced Sebastian Aho as the likely next in line, but he also mentioned Bode Wilde as an intriguing prospect with a strong skill set. And he praised Parker Wotherspoon and Samuel Bolduc.

Now Ilya Sorokin Practices For Real.

Granted, he was with the Islanders in the playoff bubble but couldn’t play, but now the long-awaited arrival of Ilya Sorokin is upon us. This time, he can actually play in games.

And while we can jest at the hype — each of the beatwriters took their turns quipping about or even recording Sorokin’s first training shots faced at Monday’s skate — Sorokin does represent one of the few changes to the roster since last season. If you evaluate a team’s chances based on the question of “What’s changed?”, then Sorokin’s presence is one of the few places where an upgrade is possible.

The Aging BFLIH Band is Back.

Casey Cizikas is coming off a detached retina that ended his playoffs, Cal Clutterbuck still experiences nerve damage and numbness on three fingers from the skate cut nearly a year ago, and Matt Martin is (officially now) re-signed.

They are getting older, they are accumulating more mileage and injuries, but this Sum Is Greater Than Its Parts fourth line is back for at least one more go.

I hereby drink to their health in 2021.

The New Kuhnhackl?

It was an under-the-radar move for a player who didn’t even grab a prominent role on the worst team in the league last season, but... it’s possible Dmytro Timashov will play a utility role by doing Exactly What Barry Wants this season.

The former Red Wing is still an unsigned RFA, but that is likely a formality.

The Elephant Not (Yet) in the Room

We’ve mentioned this plenty, but yes, to re-iterate: Mathew Barzal was not on the ice. He’s not signed yet. We don’t know what will happen, but we know both sides want each other to be around. It’s a cap issue and a flexibility issue and a “business” thing, but probably something gets worked out soon. Probably.

Taxi Squad Will Be Weird...

The AHL announced that three teams are opting out of this season, and a handful of others will relocate to their parent team’s practice facilities to make do amid the pandemic. For Bridgeport’s part, they’ll be in an odd three-team division with a reduced number of games.

Meanwhile, in his media scrum Barry Trotz elaborated on the taxi squad and how they’ll make those decisions. It’s likely to be as much ado about “What If?” issues (e.g. injuries to key personnel) than anything. “You’ve got to make decisions based on what-ifs. ... It’s going to be based on performance but also needs, needs you might not know you have right away.”

Not At All Related, But...

Saw this on a Twitter exchange last night and I was reminded of how annoying SI coverage of hockey was. Sure, bury the 4-OT Game 7 thriller with a little wee box:

In fairness to the SI editors of 1987, print editing and planning was way more complex than simply updating a website, so it was probably an achievement just to get any mention on the cover. (But I still resented SI’s coverage of hockey throughout those decades.)

The story that eventually ran on Pat LaFontaine’s 4-OT winner was actually satisfying. I still have that issue somewhere, and I’ll never forget 1) the shot of a depressed and exhausted Capitals goalie Bob Mason, and 2) the shot of the shot clock, 75 for the Caps on Kelly Hrudey and 57 for the Isles.