Lou Lamoriello has been working in professional sports for more than 30 years, but the New York Islanders general manager has never experienced anything quite like this.
"It's something totally different," Lamoriello said of the NHL pausing the 2019-20 regular season on March 12 due to the concerns surrounding the coronavirus. "It's almost like going to a movie that you felt would never happen."
The NHL announced Monday that players can opt to return home (outside of their team's city, including outside of North America, to the extent flights are available). The self-quarantine period should continue within the player's home through and including March 27, unless a longer period may be required in accordance with local mandates related to travel.
Lamoriello said there are a couple of players scheduled to return to Europe but could decide at the last minute to remain in the United States. Among Islanders players who are from outside North America include goalie Semyon Varlamov (Russia) and forward Leo Komarov (Estonia).
"We've made arrangements with the potential of them going, [but] until they get on the plane, I would not want to say they're going or not going," Lamoriello said. "No one has left at this moment.
"It's just the world we're living in right now. As of this moment, there are several players who are deciding whether they will go home or won't go home, now with the option of going home. I'm sure that they're spending some time with their families to decide what the right thing is. I'm sure there will be a couple going home; I could not at this time tell you exactly who is and who isn't. … No one has left yet."
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At the end of the self-quarantine period, and depending on world developments between now and then, consideration will be given to allowing the opening of team facilities to players in scheduled and coordinated small groups for voluntary training and care of the players on the same basis as in the offseason.
"I think that what we're doing right now is just looking at what the potential of many different options might be, and certainly knowing that the options that we're looking at might never happen," Lamoriello said. "We're spending time on all of that, and we're also preparing ourselves that we will play this year, not knowing when that might be and also knowing it might not happen.
"As far as offseason preparation, there's so many questions that have to be answered. We have more questions than answers, and the League has to work that out with the Players' Association because it has to do with the draft, free agency dates, depending upon when the League is … you certainly can't have free agency prior to the League ending. There's so many variables involved that with the intent of trying to play, you don't know how far into a date that will go."
Should the NHL return this season, Lamoriello said he expects the Islanders to play any remaining home games at Nassau Coliseum. They were scheduled to play their final game at Barclays Center on March 22. The team announced on Feb. 29 it would play any home games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as well as all home games next season, at Nassau Coliseum. They are scheduled to play in a new arena at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, at the start of the 2021-22 season.
The Islanders don't own Nassau Coliseum or Barclays Center, but Lamoriello said it's his understanding that each will compensate its arena employees for lost wages during the pause. Any who are employed by the team on a gameday basis in either or both facilities will also be compensated.
As for how the coronavirus pandemic will impact the construction of the new arena at Belmont Park, Lamoriello said he is unsure.
"It's my understanding that they are still working, but I do not have any knowledge or way or the other, and I don't think anyone does because I believe that will be something driven by the government and state as to where the restrictions are in certain areas of work," Lamoriello said.
While everyone waits to see if the season will be able to resume, Lamoriello applauded the consistent dialogue between all parties involved.
"The NHL has been in total communication with the teams on a daily basis," Lamoriello said. "The union has been in total communication with the players on a daily basis. We, the team, have been in total communication with all our players also on a daily basis."