NHL Return Rumors: Latest on Virus Concerns, Playoff Format, and Isles' Goalie Pursuit

By WFAN Sports Radio 101.9 FM/66AM New York

The NHL moved forward yet again with their plans to resume the 2019-20 season and see it to an amicable conclusion on Thursday, announcing plans for phase two of their agenda to begin on Monday.

Small group workouts are now permitted, with no more than six players on the ice at once and no coaches or trainers present. The playoff format was also finalized, building on the original 24-team plan announced earlier. Once the ‘qualifying rounds’ (best-of-five) are completed, with the Islanders facing the Florida Panthers, the remaining 16 teams will be reseeded each round, culminating in awarding the Stanley Cup. All four rounds will remain a best-of-seven format.

Commissioner Gary Bettman also announced that phase three, which is the formal resumption of ‘training camp’, will not begin before July 10 and that all players and staff will be quarantined in the hub city designated to their team for the duration of the tournament. The Islanders are hoping to release a statement on the opening of their facility this weekend.

I had a chance to catch up with NHL Rumors Daily (@NHLrumorsdaily), who has been on top of this story from the beginning and provides the most accurate and up-to-date league news on a regular basis on the social media platform Twitter, among non-media employed accounts. Here are some tidbits from our conversation:

  • There’s some noise that players are becoming increasingly uncertain about a possible flare up of the virus. Nothing to derail plans yet but it has come up many times in Phase 3 talks. Things still have an optimistic outlook considered, and the hub cities are expected to be officially announced by the end of June. 
  • Money has not been a pressing issue, players simply want clarity on when they will be receiving their last paycheck in full.
  • Talks surrounding a possible tournament/exhibition featuring the 7 teams not in the playoffs were held, and then tabled, however the league would reconsider should the playoffs start.
  • Players proposed having immediate families join them as soon as possible/safe. Expect this to leak out over the next two weeks.
  • Ideally phase 3 votes would like to take place no later than June 25th.

Of course, the biggest pressing issue for the Islanders during this pandemic pause is the status of Ilya Sorokin, the goaltender that general manager Lou Lamoriello has been waiting to bring over from Russia. We observed the impact that Igor Shestyorkin had for the rival New York Rangers and the Isles were (are) hoping that Sorokin can follow suit. All scouting reports seem to indicate he can. But, he must sign a contract and see the ice first.

With the league holding firm, for now, that no player can sign a contract for this season, meaning that Sorokin must wait until possibly January (suggested start of 2020-21 season) to again see game action, he and his agent have been keeping their options open, speaking with CSKA on a potential return to his homeland. That appears an intelligent move on the goaltender and his agents part, but could impact New York greatly as there now exists a slim possibility that he never dons an Islanders sweater at all. The only positive news to date on that front is when deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league ‘might consider’ allowing them to sign their deal for this season, but not be allowed to partake in the playoffs.

In the meantime, we sit and we wait. Wait for a resolution to a myriad of questions that still exist. On some fronts, things are clearer today about the league’s plan. On others, there are still ways to go.