31 Thoughts: Why new arena means everything for Islanders

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman on the Vegas Golden Knights trading some of their defensive depth, where the New York Islanders will be playing in the next few years and how a loophole might see NHL players still go to the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Jon Ledecky has a vision.

“We want our legacy to be, that they don’t remember us,” he said Tuesday, referring to himself and Islanders co-owner Scott Malkin. “But they remember there were owners who built a new building and won more Cups.”

Speaking at a Manhattan restaurant, Ledecky met with the media for the first time since submitting a bid to build a new arena at Belmont Park. The facility would be in partnership with Sterling Project Development (controlled by the Wilpons, owners of the New York Mets) and the Oak View Group. Featuring the superbly connected Tim Leiweke, Oak View is working towards a $600-million renovation of Key Arena in Seattle that could bring the NBA and NHL to that city.

It’s a powerful group. What it doesn’t control is the timeline. There is no certainty to how long the process will take. Ledecky confirmed the Islanders will remain at Barclays Center until the end of the 2018-19 season, and estimated that, if it does win the bid, building a new arena would take approximately 20 months.

So, anything after January 2018 leaves the possibility of a gap. But Ledecky wasn’t going there.

“Our focus is solely on Belmont Park,” he said. “We want Belmont to be our permanent home.”

Ledecky came to deliver a message, and didn’t stray from it. His comments were measured, but firm. We tried the follow-ups and what-ifs, but he deflected them.

What would he do if a new arena wasn’t ready for the 2019-20 season?

“It’s complete conjecture at this point,” he answered. “We will cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Would he move the team if it didn’t work out?

“We’re planning on winning this thing, number one. Number two, we’re sending that message. Number three, Scott and I grew up in this area. My kids spent their whole life being part of New York.”

“This is a New York metropolitan-area team.”

He did squash any idea of a return to Nassau. “The commissioner said it’s not viable, and absolutely I agree with the commissioner.”

The organization already spent $60 million to upgrade its own practice facility. Ledecky toured every NHL arena and practice setup in preparation for these investments. He indicated that capacity of a new building would be similar to two of the newest in the NHL, Edmonton’s Rogers Arena (18,347 for hockey) and Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena (20,000). He laughed when we joked the new scoreboard would be one foot wider than New Jersey’s impressive new monstrosity.

But for Ledecky, this is serious business. The Islanders are all-in at Belmont Park.


1. The as-yet-to-be-determined timeline is not only important in determining the Islanders’ future home, it could also be critical in determining John Tavares’ future home. You might have heard the team’s captain and cornerstone player is a free agent at the end of the season. But, if he’s told the organization how a new arena affects his decision, president and GM Garth Snow wasn’t sharing it. “I will keep that between (agent Pat Brisson), John and myself. I don’t want to speculate, and don’t want to speak for John.”

2. Colorado plays its home opener Wednesday night after a 2-1 road trip to open the season. The Avalanche won in Boston to end the trip after a 4-1 loss in New Jersey. That was a good result considering how second-year coach Jared Bednar felt about the team’s painful 2016-17 season.

“We were fragmented,” he said last week. “There’s a responsibility on all of us, most importantly me, to make sure that does not happen again. Is everyone doing enough to help each other to get through tough times and make it easier? I liked our pre-season last year, we were undefeated. Then, as soon as the season started, when things went wrong, we were not a close team. There was a divide between old and young, we didn’t stick up for each other.” Bednar paused. “The word gets used a lot, but we had to change our culture. Be more of a family. Don’t point fingers. (Last year), young players weren’t as willing to put themselves out there as much as they are now. This year, there is a big difference. We have a different dynamic, the young players more in charge. I told them, ‘Embrace being the underdog.’”

Who has stepped up? Bednar mentioned Nathan MacKinnon, then two others who stayed in Denver most of the summer. “J.T. Compher’s been unreal. When we were calling him up last year, the reports we were getting were an average skater, good 200-foot player, but not someone who wows you. But he’s picked up a step, a full step if not more. He’s got a little edge to him too. He can be a big contributor for us. The other is Tyson Jost. Everyone knows his story, you know his character. He’s added muscle, and found a way to keep his quickness.”

After mentioning those two, Bednar credited Erik Johnson. The Avalanche cratered when he went down, a thin blue line missing its biggest horse. “He has a place in California. He kept coming back and forth. He was focused on getting back (healthy) and adding quickness. And he was pushing the young players who stayed here.”

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3. With all of the talk about bringing the team together, Bednar has an immediate challenge: Matt Duchene’s future. How do you keep things together when it’s only a matter of time before he’s traded? “We talked to the group about that,” he answered. “They have to help Matt get through it. He’s an important piece and a big contributor. We describe it as, ‘That’s business, we don’t control it.’ We do control being good teammates and working together, and that goes for both him and them.”

Bednar wanted to keep his conversations with Duchene private, but did give some idea of his message. “We don’t know where this is going. But it’s not between me and you, or you and your teammates. We all get what we want if everyone gives their all. I don’t want to put words into his mouth, but the uncertainty was hard for him. He showed up with a good attitude, and knows if you work hard, he will earn good opportunities. Work through the mental side, we’re all here to help you.”

4. At last year’s draft lottery, I had a chance to ask Joe Sakic about Bednar’s future. There was a lot of uncertainty at the time, but Sakic was adamant the coach would get another chance. “This is not his fault,” the GM said several times, pointing out Bednar did not get the proper time to prepare after Patrick Roy absconded.

Bednar, who won a Calder Cup with AHL Cleveland in 2016, is thankful for Sakic’s patience. “I know I’m a better coach than that, but I learned that there were better ways I could have handled it. We are in the business of winning. Good people are let go after better years than that. I believe, with my staff, I can help turn this team around. When we go through tough times, I put myself on the top, to make sure we are in charge of all situations that arise. Players want to prove to they belong in the league, I want to prove that too. MacKinnon is a great player, he wants to go to elite level. I’m no different.”

5. What a tremendous opening ceremony/memorial by Vegas. Struck all the right notes. They should just sew the “C” onto Deryk Engelland’s jersey. What made it even more impressive is there’s no doubt the organization put a ton of work into something very different, then had to do a complete 180-degree turn after the Mandalay Bay shooting. That’s not easy. The team’s on-ice success is a positive jolt to start the season. James Neal is a tremendous story, with five goals in three games. The Golden Knights and Predators battled behind the scenes during the summer when Neal’s playoff hand/wrist injuries turned out to be worse than realized. There was serious doubt he’d be ready for the start of the season, never mind become the NHL’s hottest scorer not named Ovechkin.

6. A few GMs/executives saw the same thing in the first week. As one said, “A lot of teams are really thin on the blue line.” You could probably name 10 clubs with a strong defence corps, but how many of them are confident enough to subtract from that group in a trade? There’s a squeeze. That’s where Vegas comes in, but right now it’s an old-fashioned staring contest between George McPhee and his peers. As one GM said, “The guys we want are the guys he wants to keep.”

7. McPhee threw cold water on reports Vadim Shipachyov wanted to go back to Russia instead of being in roster limbo. Sometimes getting to the truth of overseas stories is like trying to crack the enigma code. In this case, one of two things is most likely. It’s either true, or some KHL club wants Shipachyov, thinks he’s wasting his time in North America and put that out there. McPhee did say there’s no time frame to sort out his roster and “we’ll do the best we can” for Shipachyov. (This undoubtedly goes for Shea Theodore, too.) Honestly, it’s going to come down to how long this takes. This will be a test of the player’s patience.

8. I’m with Ron MacLean on team “Sign Turris.” Top centres are hard to find, and he’s made himself into one. He was outstanding in last year’s playoffs. I haven’t spoken to him one-on-one, but I know he is sensitive about the whole situation because of his bitter divorce from Arizona. He has no desire to put his family through that again — in his mind, the two situations are not comparable. Turris made it very clear publicly and privately that he wants to stay in Ottawa. It’s not a secret that the issue is term, word is GM Pierre Dorion and agent Kurt Overhardt agree (or pretty much agree) on salary. Turris did not dress during the first week of exhibition play. At the time, Senators coach Guy Boucher said it was because he “knew what Turris could do,” but I think trade talks were also a factor. Now, it’s time to play for keeps and Dorion is stepping back to see how things go. The Senators are not a cap team, with Erik Karlsson and Mark Stone talks looming. If a trade becomes reality, my personal opinion is to monitor Nashville’s interest.

9. Montreal needs centres, but the Canadiens also need scoring. Would they wade into the Andreas Athanasiou conversations?

10. No contract talks between Rick Nash and the New York Rangers. He is unrestricted after this season. It’s interesting, because he likes it there and the Rangers really like him personally. I thought they’d see if there was common ground on an extension. But this is business, and, in free agency, the Rangers waited out Kevin Shattenkirk until he moved to their position. That’s instructive to their thinking. They want cap flexibility, and I also think they want to see where they are before making any commitment. Nash is going to be a hot commodity if he goes on the block. He can agree to be traded to 12 teams, but the Rangers have to ask for a list. That has not occurred.

11. Ondrej Pavelec was preparing to be without an NHL contract in August, ready to fight somewhere with no guaranteed job for 2017-18. “I didn’t want to go to Europe,” he said last Saturday. “I got a KHL offer in May, but they wanted a decision in two days. I said no. I wanted one more try at the NHL. The phone rang on July 1.” Were you surprised the Rangers called? “Yes. But it’s New York. What a great place to play.”

Goalie coach Benoit Allaire is moving him back on the goal line. “I’ve tried it before,” Pavelec said. “But I didn’t stay with it because I didn’t trust it. Now, you see Henrik (Lundqvist) doing it every day and you see how it works.” With that technical change comes an adjustment to Pavelec’s thinking. “Before, you come out and challenge the shooter. If he passes to your side and someone else scores, you think, ‘Well, it’s not my fault, someone else was supposed to (stop the pass).’ (Allaire) doesn’t want you to think like that. He wants you to think, ‘Why can’t I be in position to make that save, too?’”

12. Pavelec watched Winnipeg’s season-opening 7-2 loss to Toronto. He took no satisfaction in it. “I felt bad for Steve Mason.” Goalie union.


13. One very noticeable change with Edmonton: Connor McDavid is going to face your best players. In last season’s home playoff games, he averaged 4:42 against Logan Couture and 3:23 versus Ryan Getzlaf (That’s even-strength). Opening night, he was head-to-head with Sean Monahan for 8:01. In Monday’s 5-2 loss to Winnipeg, it was 8:09 against Mark Scheifele.

14. It’s very early, but another player with an early time-on-ice change is Dustin Brown. The Kings forward is at 20:13 for two games. He hasn’t averaged 20 minutes since 2011-12 (20:10) and hasn’t been above 16:30 since 2013-14. Hockey-reference.com indicates Brown hadn’t played 20 minutes in a regular-season game in four years.

15. When Florida drafted Michael Matheson 23rd overall in 2012, they resisted some opportunities to move up and down, confident they’d get him there and not wishing to move away from where they thought he’d be available. Ten defencemen were taken before him — Ryan Murray, Griffin Reinhart, Morgan Rielly, Hampus Lindholm, Mathew Dumba, Derrick Pouliot, Jacob Trouba, Slater Koekkoek, Cody Ceci and Olli Maatta. The Panthers were confident that Matheson, with time, would fit into that group. One of the reasons they liked him? He was a serious person who knew what he wanted to achieve, understood the path to get there and rarely varied from it. The biggest gamble, they felt, was projecting how much upside there was coming out of the USHL, but they believed his work ethic would get him there.

There was a little bit of, “Who’s that?” as Matheson signed an eight-year extension worth just under $5 million per season last week. I didn’t realize that Matheson led them in even-strength ice-time last season, ahead of Aaron Ekblad. That’s continued into this year. He’s 1:18 above any other teammate, although it’s just two games. Second contracts are now the cap busters. Florida is making an educated bet.

16. I don’t think Mark Jankowski is going to be in AHL Stockton for too long.

17. One of the hardest things about coaching in Canada is being yourself. Travis Green showed a lack of fear when he sat Brock Boeser for the opener against Edmonton. As the Canuck fan base went wild on social media, Green stuck to his plan of dressing Derek Dorsett, giving him a chance to pester McDavid. Coaches are going to do things that work, and they are going to do things that blow up like a Grade 10 chemistry experiment. But you have to stick to what you believe. You must appreciate your fans, but as the old saying goes, “If you worry about what they say, you’re going to wind up sitting next to them.”

18. What was the best text Chicago’s Ryan Hartman received after five points against Pittsburgh? “One of my friends texted, ‘Only five?’” he laughed.

19. Hartman said he was challenged by Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman in his 2016-17 exit meeting. “He told me he expected more (this season). I changed the way I prepared in the summer.” One of Hartman’s adjustments was to attend Darryl Belfry’s skills camp in Florida. “He wanted me to create more deception in the way I receive passes. If you give a slight move with your stick either away from or closer to (the passer) as you receive it, you open up some space. I like it.”

20. Blackhawks’ prospect Dylan Sikura is off to a blazing start for NCAA Northeastern. He had five points in two games against Sacred Heart, including two goals in the first 9:31 of the second one. “He’s ready for the NHL now,” said one scout.

A senior, Sikura was taken 178th overall in 2014. He can choose free agency after the season, although Chicago smoothly signed his brother, Tyler, now playing for AHL Rockford. The Canadian Olympic team was watching Sikura last weekend. He is from Aurora, Ont.

21. The Canadian team also watched Nolan Patrick’s first two games on Philadelphia’s season-opening California road swing. GM Sean Burke and head coach Willie Desjardins were there. The NHL made it very clear that AHL players on two-way contracts cannot go to South Korea, but is willing to allow those in junior or overseas to play. However, the International Olympic Committee has said no one with an NHL contract will be eligible, although a couple of federations indicated they are privately trying to negotiate that. I’m not sure the IOC is willing to budge, and some NHL teams are very skeptical of that possibility. We’ll see.

22. Tampa Bay beat Washington on Monday with a four-forward overtime power play — Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos. Good luck defending that.

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23. In major midget, Victor Mete’s defence partner was Jakob Chychrun. Who on earth scored against that duo? Mete is not tall, but as one executive who knows him said, “He’s always been very mature physically.”

As a 16-year-old for OHL London, he matched up against Erie’s Connor McDavid. Apparently, he was the only Knights defenceman who could keep up with the Otters’ star. His contract signing with Montreal is a nice story. He was ushered into a dressing room after a game for the official moment. When he opened the door, about 50 family and friends were waiting for him — along with the Canadiens.

24. London churns out players like McDonald’s churns out Big Macs. Alex Formenton was an 11th-round OHL draft selection, when he was five-foot-six. Two years later, he’s a six-foot-one talent who went nine rounds higher in the NHL draft. The Senators look like they got a good one.

25. After Toronto’s post-season elimination last April, GM Lou Lamoriello told the team about the 1987-88 and 1988-89 New Jersey Devils. The first of those teams rebounded from a slow start and coaching change to go to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time ever, all the way to the Stanley Cup semifinal. The next season, with higher expectations, the Devils malfunctioned, missing the post-season entirely. Those were Brendan Shanahan’s first two seasons, and Lamoriello told the Leafs not to take anything for granted.

Message received by the 3-0 club, which stunningly skated rings around Chicago on Monday night. The Blackhawks who saw the most time against Auston Matthews at five-on-five were Artem Anisimov, Ryan Hartman, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Shots on goal when Matthews was on the ice versus the first four were 10-0 Toronto in that head-to-head matchup. Seabrook did a little better. It was only 9-0 when he was out there.

26. In case you missed it from producer Jeremy McElhinney’s tremendous feature on Matthews’ incredible four-goal NHL debut, he signed Craig Anderson’s stick from that evening with “thanks FOUR making my first game memorable.” Anderson: “I giggle every time I look at it.”

27. Watch what happens with Matthews and William Nylander after penalty kills. Since Zach Hyman is deployed in that situation, Mike Babcock tinkers. In the opener against Winnipeg, Toronto scored twice after the coach placed a different winger with the other two right after a penalty expired. Patrick Marleau scored his first goal that way. Right after Mark Scheifele broke Frederik Andersen’s shutout and made it 6-1, Nazem Kadri was put on the line for the ensuing faceoff. The Maple Leafs went right down the ice and scored.

28. For 19 years, Patrick Marleau was the last San Jose Shark to come out of the dressing room. The tradition stays alive in his new home. Marleau changed his off-season training about five years ago. “He’s really good at having the right approach to his body,” said Mike Potenza, San Jose’s strength and conditioning coach. Potenza’s time with Marleau lasted 11 years, seeing a player who adapted to the challenges of keeping agility and flexibility as he got older. Marleau adopted Pilates and a more rigorous in-season stretching routine. Potenza suggested something that would seem counter-intuitive, a more relaxed summer, ramping up the intensity as the calendar flipped to September. “The first time we did it, he came to me at the start of the year and said he didn’t feel as good. I told him, ‘Wait until February.’ He came back then and said, ‘I never felt this good.’”

29. We’ve mentioned how Leo Komarov was one of the NHL’s targets for wearing the visor too high. The New York Post’s Larry Brooks added the Rangers’ Kevin Hayes to that list. Others who were noticed: Carl Hagelin (Pittsburgh), Niklas Kronwall (Detroit) and Sean Monahan (Calgary). Something to look out for.

30. The NHL and NHLPA’s next face-to-face meeting about the international calendar is Thursday in Toronto. There is some question about whether or not everyone wants to go back to China, because it didn’t make money. (The promoter takes the risk, not the league or union.) I can’t believe this is even an issue. You’re going to go once and give up, four years from the Olympics? I’d like to see them go to France and Germany, too, since the world championships were just there.

31. Someone in Pittsburgh ownership (or the president/CEO) should step into the spotlight and answer for going to the White House. Whether you agree or disagree, it is a controversial decision. Mike Sullivan and Sidney Crosby should not be shouldering all of the heat. Being the coach and/or the captain means you accept a lot of responsibility, and they’ve taken their share. But the decision to go was made higher up the food chain. Step up.

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