Graziano: Why NHL Must Turn Focus to 2020-21 Season

Andy Graziano
April 02, 2020 - 4:02 pm
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The deadline for the NHL self-quarantine period has now been extended, expectedly, to April 15, while the nation has announced it will be, at least, April 30 before anything is re-evaluated. With the current situation before us, do you see any chance of the NHL safely resuming play and completing the 2019-20 season? I don’t. And I don’t think they should. Let me explain.

Some people still are having a hard time accepting our current environment and making the necessary sacrifices to "flatten the curve" of the novel coronavirus. Groups of kids are still hanging out in my local town square. Tons showed up in Manhattan to watch a medical ship cruise into New York harbor with much-needed capacity. New York City parks have had to be closed and locked shut to prevent throngs from gathering at them. Florida, with its many retirement communities and people who have traveled there since January, still isn’t on any type of logical lockdown.

Given the ignorance of some, the numbers unfortunately will continue to rise. The elderly and immunocompromised will still be at greatest risk. But this is a virus that doesn’t seem to discriminate. Doctors are having a rough time explaining why it hits some, regardless of age, like a mack truck, while others experience no more than cold and flu symptoms. It’s almost like playing Russian roulette at this point. Is the NHL willing to risk that come May, for example, the disease diminishes to the point where the players and their families are safe? All for a buck?

It’s a miracle, at this point, that only four players have tested positive. I would bet many more are asymptomatic and don’t even know they are carrying it, potentially affecting all those they come in contact with. The gain is simply not worth the risk. If ice around the league is known to be inadequate in many arenas, how will it be in July and August? Building availability is another issue. The draft and free agency another. Playoff eligibility by points percentage? A crock. Nobody can say whether teams would have won their games in hand. Injured players who most certainly would have missed the playoffs now are healed enough to play? It devalues everything. Starting the 2020-21 season, on time and in full, should be the goal here at this point.

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Now, with that off my chest, we turn back to hockey. Starting today, we’ll be reviewing the top five at every position in Islanders history, week by week. Not everyone will agree, I fully understand that going in. I’m expecting a push-back. But, that’s what makes this country great, isn’t it? The right to disagree, the right to have your own opinion. Simply be courteous about it, yeah?

Let’s start at the center position.

5. Butch Goring (1979-80 to 1984-85): Proof you don’t need to be the biggest, strongest and score the most points to have a significant impact on the fortunes of a hockey club. Goring was the "final piece" on the 1980 Stanley Cup champions, coming over in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings to fill an invisible void all knew was missing. He was tremendous at both ends of the rink in winning four Stanley Cups, amassing 195 points in 332 games with New York and collecting Selke votes in three years. Where he shined was the post-season with 68 points in 99 playoff games.

4. Pierre Turgeon (1991-92 to 1994-95): The crafty center was only here for four seasons, but what a magical four they turned out to be. He tallied 340 points in 255 games, including that incredible 1992-93 season, where he collected 58-74-132. The incident where Dale Hunter assaulted him forever changed the Islanders post-season hopes in 1993, as many believed they were preparing for a deep run.

3. Pat LaFontaine (1983-84 to 1990-91): The Islanders took a 5-10 center from St. Louis with their third selection in the 1983 entry draft, and he didn’t disappoint, dazzling fans over the course of 530 games with 287 goals and 566 points and an additional 36 points in 56 playoff games. As an 18-year old, he scored 13 times in his first 15 games. There’s no telling where LaFontaine would have ended up on scoring leaderboards, had injuries not dogged him midway through his career. He played 22 games or fewer three times, only played a full season twice and retired early at 33 due to concussions.

2. John Tavares (2009-10 to 2017-18): How he left is a story all unto itself, but there can be no mistaking the impact Tavares had on the Islanders for nine seasons. Fifth on the all-time scoring leaderboard (621 points in 669 games) and scored one of the most memorable goals when he defeated Florida in the playoffs, lifting the Islanders to the second round after an eternity. A quiet, hard-working leader.

1. Bryan Trottier (1975-76 to 1989-90): Heart and soul? Check. Offensive ability? Check. Defensive shutdown capability? Check. Physical? Check. Faceoffs? Check. Man, did Trottier check many boxes during a remarkable career, spanning 15 years and 1,123 games. Four Stanley Cups, 1,353 points, Hart, Ross, Smythe and Clancy trophies. And to recollect, he was a SECOND round pick (22nd overall) in 1974. No Islanders center, and arguably, not many in league history, did it better than Trots.

Honorable Mention: Brent Sutter (one of the hardest omissions from this list).