Mathew Barzal remains unsigned and missed the first day of New York Islanders training camp Sunday.
The restricted free agent center led the Islanders with 60 points (19 goals, 41 assists) in 68 games last season and scored 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
“No, it doesn’t complicate [matters that Barzal hasn’t signed],” coach Barry Trotz said. “We know going into this no matter, you have to make sure that you’re adaptable, either through testing protocols or injury or anything like that. It’s nothing unusual for us if we’re missing a person here or there. That’s part of NHL hockey and the world today.
“We’re just going to worry about who we can put out on the ice and worry about what we can do within the next couple of days. I think the next couple of days is about getting our real solid foundation that we had through the original bubble (in Toronto and Edmonton for the 2020 postseason) and continue with the foundational elements to start this camp. The guys have put in a lot of work and they’re ready to go. They’re excited to go, just as the whole League is.”
The Islanders will hold their first official on-ice workout Monday and begin the season on Jan. 14 at the New York Rangers. Trotz said that if Barzal remains unsigned, the Islanders will rely on others to step up in the 23-year-old’s absence. Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Casey Cizikas, Austin Czarnik and Otto Koivula are expected to be among the centers in training camp.
“Any player, it doesn’t matter if it’s Mathew, if it’s anybody who’s on our club when they’re out, it does affect the group, and so you ask other players to fill in that void and get a job done,” Trotz said. “To me, it’s opportunity. I’ve had a number of players in the past injured, and [that] allowed other players to come in and really put a foothold into their own sort of game, their own role. Those are the opportunities.
“We talk about that we know there’s going to be people in, people out, unpredictability, so you get an opportunity, you’ve got to go with it. We’ve been in that situation many times; we’ll continue to fill in those holes. If someone’s not there, we go forward. That’s how we’re built.”
Barzal, who played on the top line in the playoffs last season with Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle, has scored 207 points (59 goals, 148 assists) in 234 regular-season games and 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) in 30 postseason games. He helped New York reach the Eastern Conference Final last season before it lost the best-of-7 series to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.
“[Barzal], he’s one of the boys,” said Lee, the Islanders captain. “He doesn’t want to be missing any more time than anyone else. It’s all going to get worked out, we haven’t thought twice about it. It’s not something we really worry about. But that’s just the other side of things that takes some time, and we have that right now.”
Eberle said, “I know he loves being an Islander, I know he loves playing here, I know he loves the group of the team. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before something happens.”
General manager Lou Lamoriello did not have an update on contract negotiations with Barzal when asked Thursday.
“No, I have nothing new to say,” Lamoriello said. “Mathew is in town, quarantining and we will certainly work at this, with the hope to have him on the first day of training camp.
“We still have a few days to training camp, so I don’t want to get into any hypotheticals. It is our intention and his intention to be there and hopefully that will happen.”