Finally, all us hockey fans can return to our normal goings and no longer have to suffer the lackluster experience we get from every other sport we've been forced to endure for the past hundred or so days. No more break downs in talks or stall tactics taking us all to the brink of madness, we can finally talk hockey. Live, breathe, eat, sleep, watch and enjoy hockey!
The New York Islanders come into the shortened season (likely around 48 games) with a distinct advantage over quite a few teams: Almost the entire team has been playing in one form or another. All of their young players have been in Bridgeport (David Ullstrom, Casey Cizikas, Kevin Poulin, Anders Nilsson, Travis Hamonic and Johan Sundstrom) have seen regular minutes and been lighting up the score sheets. Nino Niederreiter has been at a steady point-per-game pace and has returned to form since his abysmal outing in his rookie season.
John Tavares and Mark Streit were playing for HC Bern for most of the lockout, Matt Moulson has been skating regularly with a Juniors team in Connecticut, Michael Grabner also headed for Europe as did Bailey. Andrew MacDonald also was skating and playing over in a Czech league as well.
Lubomir Visnovsky headed back home to Slovakia for the lockout, but not before his best efforts to make sure his return wasn't to Long Island. Unfortunately this has been a bit of a hiccup, he was supposed to become a staple of the Islanders defensive core, which was lacking last season. Visnovsky filed a complaint saying his trade was invalid citing a "no trade clause" from his original contract with the Los Angeles Kings. Then word came about that he was considering taking a contract and remaining in Slovakia for the rest of the season. This has become borderline unprofessional, but as Evgeni Nabokov learned, it's not that easy to get off the hook. If he out right refuses to report to the Islanders, a gambling man would bet that Garth Snow would look to toll his contract and have the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) block him from playing in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Safe to say if Visnovsky has any desire to play hockey in any league, he'll report to training camp.
Edit: Visnovsky's agent contacted the Islanders and stated his intentions of remaining in Slovakia and playing for the KHL, citing "personal reasons."
Pretty foolish to buy into that, seeing as how he attempted to have the trade blocked nearly as soon as it happened, but if the KHL honors NHL contracts as it has agreed to do, and the IIHF blocks him from playing pending his NHL contract with the Islanders Visnovsky won't be playing anywhere but Long Island until he is either released, the contract fulfilled, or the trade reversed some how.
Unfortunately this puts the Islanders in a tight spot of having to rush up young defenseman or running around to sign some type of free agent.
Nabokov has been skating in the San Jose practice facility regularly and is in shape and ready for action. DiPietro had a short and lackluster stint in Germany (denying reports of a groin injury), although he did skate today at Ice Works with a few other players including Moulson.
The Islanders had a solid lineup going into the lockout, but it wouldn't be hockey if there weren't injuries to wreak havoc:
Grabner: abdominal tear.
Brock Nelson: broken jaw.
Kirill Kabanov: wrist/arm cut by a skate.
Calvin DeHaan: another shoulder injury.
Despite this, Grabner and Hamonic should be ready for training camp, which is the most important as Hamonic is a large part of the Islanders defense and Grabner is a solid scorer.
A large group of players from Bridgeport will be given a hard look this season. Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Strome will be no different. Pending the rules set for the invitation of junior players, they are two of---if not the only two---that will be invited to training camp let alone from Juniors. Snow must tread lightly here. They are both exceptional players, but there's literally no sense in calling them up for a short 48 game season, which would ruin their confidence if they're not 100 percent ready for the NHL. Strome has been tearing it up in juniors and there are questions of what else he has to gain from playing with Niagra anymore. But the exact same things were said about Niederreiter last season and it nearly ruined him. The team would be much better off letting these players continue to thrive and be the best they can instead of rushing them up for away for a season that largely will tell little about the makeup of any team.
Strange things happen in shortened seasons. Sure winners become flops, and bottom feeders and streaky teams can end up in surprise playoff runs. There are about two weeks until the season starts, and the Islanders must come out blazing. A five game losing streak can bury teams in the standings. Head coach Jack Capuano can't have any patience for lazy or lousy play. No more garbage giveaways then back on the ice for the next shift.
While it is a little naive to expect the Islanders to win the Stanley Cup, I do think the team will pleasantly surpris with this years results if injuries or players not reporting do not derail progress.
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