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New York Islanders

Anders Lee: Rask Making Best Decision for Himself and Family

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The New York Islanders, like the rest of the hockey world, reacted to the news that Boston Bruins goaltender Tuuka Rask had opted out of the remainder of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Rask made the announcement before the Bruins were slated to face the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 3 of the First Round. Rask and his wife, Jasmiina Nikkila, recently had a baby girl and they also have two other young daughters at home.

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Islanders captain Anders Lee certainly understood where Rask was coming from. Lee and his wife welcomed their first child to the world in March right before COVID-19 paused the season.

“I don’t know Tuukka personally, but he’s making the best decision for himself and his family,” Anders Lee said. “I think that takes a lot of strength to do that in a situation where he wants to be there for his teammates and they’re going through a run.”

Three Takeaways: There’s No Stopping the Islanders | NYHN+

Several members of the Islanders organization can sympathize with the position Rask found himself in. Anders Lee, Josh Bailey and Jordan Eberle all had new additions to their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Matt Martin and his wife Syndey welcomed their first child as well during training camp in July.

That’s not to mention the other players on the team that also have families that they had to think about when they committed to playing the 2020 postseason in the Toronto bubble.

“It’s tough being away from the family and your kids,” Lee said. “You have to do your best. All the FaceTimes and staying in touch. It’s not easy, but (our families) couldn’t be more supportive to us. We are blessed enough to have this opportunity to come and play here.”

The Islanders captain later added: “It’s a pretty special time, but at the same time it can be difficult being away from your family and not being able to see them.”

The Islanders did not have any players opt out of the NHL’s return to play. As a whole, the NHL had very few players decide to opt-out of playing.

Calgary Flames defenseman and for Islanders Travis Hamonic had been the most notable player to opt-out before the NHL began to play again earlier this month.

The Islanders to their credit made their players well aware of the realities of the situation well before they left for Toronto. Islanders head coach and general manager Lou Lamoriello wanted to make sure both the players and their families understood the commitment they were getting into.

Barry Trotz

“That was discussed thoroughly with our leadership group and our team as a whole,” Trotz said. “I think Lou was very clear to everybody that the commitment had to be there. If not, just (opt-out) early rather than late. We talked about that and our players understand that.

“We have a really good set of wives and girlfriends that understand the process that there is commitment.”

The Islanders bench boss noted that the players and coaches miss plenty of moments with their respective family and friends, but they are able to give them certain moments back. Trotz recalled being able to share his Stanley Cup Championship with his family in 2018.

“That’s a gift you can give to your family,” Trotz said. “I think being a spouse or family member of an athlete takes a lot of commitment and understanding. I think we’re in a good place with our group.”

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Free Agency

A Look at What Ryan Pulock’s New Contract Might be with Islanders | NYHN+

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New York Islanders Defenceman Ryan Pulock (6) in action during a regular season NHL game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the New York Islanders on November 30, 2019, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. (Photo by David Hahn/Icon Sportswire)

Former New York Islanders defenseman and restricted free agent Devon Toews received his payday on Tuesday, and soon Ryan Pulock will be looking for his.

The 26-year-old defenseman is also an RFA and remains unsigned by the Isles. Pulock elected to file for arbitration and is scheduled for a hearing on Nov. 6. The Islanders would like to have his contract handled before that date, but Pulock is due for a major raise from his previous two-year, $4 million bridge deal he signed in 2018.

Pulock has become a top-pairing defenseman for the Islanders, who logged an average of 22:24 of ice time per game this past season. It was the second consecutive year that Pulock has averaged more than 20 minutes a game and he is constantly up against the opposing team’s top players.

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New York Islanders

It’s Time: Free Josh Ho-Sang or Move On

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Josh Ho-Sang

Enough, already. The New York Islanders and GM Lou Lamoriello have made their point. It’s time to free Josh Ho-Sang. Play him in the NHL or let the young man pursue opportunities elsewhere.

#FreeJoshHoSang

Tuesday, the Islanders avoided arbitration with Ho-Sang and signed him to a $700,000 NHL contract, or $225,000 in the minors.

It’s been a long fall for the 2014 first-round pick (28th overall).

My hockey career has been as varied as it has been enjoyable. From a syndicated radio show in the friendly confines of the NHL’s largest fanbase to Pittsburgh, then to the minors, back to Pittsburgh, and eventually creating National Hockey Now.

After 20 years, I’ve seen almost every situation.

I’ve had dinner with players who were supposedly bad apples or struggling to adopt the NHL way. They are rarely the people reflected in the public portrayals. Usually, it’s a misunderstanding.

I’ve met young men being drafted and wanting nothing else for their life but to light the lamp in the greatest hockey league in the world.

After their big day, I’ve sat with those same players on long bus rides and in locker rooms. I’ve heard their frustration as organizations heap tough love with a shovel, usually because the player doesn’t adequately cover their own zone or don’t get their nose dirty enough.

Or doesn’t bear the tough love with a smile and a gee golly acceptance.

In his first 43 NHL games, Ho-Sang had six goals and 16 assists, which is .5 points per game. There are a lot of NHL players who cannot boast such totals. And Ho-Sang has more to give.

Despite his initial choice of numbers (No. 66), for which I will forever associate with mine and Ho-Sang’s childhood hockey hero, Mario Lemieux, I root for him to break the stranglehold the New York Islanders have placed upon his career.

Conform or else!

For some players, the answer is “or else,” not because they’re misanthropic or contrarian, but because they know they can help in other ways, and what is asked of them is as foreign as the Chinese alphabet.

Ahem, Phil Kessel. You may have heard from your Pittsburgh Penguins friends that Phil has two Stanley Cup rings?

Until Kessel and his coaches clashed, Kessel enjoyed a rebirth because someone appreciated him and let him be him. The situation eventually soured, because Kessel is a bit of a contrarian, but would either side trade those Cups?

Ho-Sang’s story is, unfortunately, not uncommon. I’ve sat at Denny’s on a Sunday morning after long bus trips and looked at players whose heart weighed 20 pounds because all they want is to play in the NHL, and they don’t truly understand why they’re banished to the minors.

They bounce to the minors, exiled from their dreams until they conform to the visions of an NHL coach or GM who demand something different than they’ve ever been.

It’s the equivalent of those snotty couples on HGTV who “love” the home they’re viewing until the wife invariably lists two dozen changes and hundreds of thousands of dollars of upgrades. You want to scream, “Don’t buy the house!”

He’s Back! Josh Ho-Sang Returns to Islanders on 1-Year Deal

But I can turn the channel, hopeful that I’ll never again be in such a situation.

The New York Islanders bought Josh Ho-Sang, full well knowing they were getting a skilled player with rough edges. Did they think they could miraculously make him someone else?

#FreeJoshHoSang

One player you may remember (but I won’t name), who later became a bit notorious, looked at me over his stack of eggs and pancakes in a tiny ECHL city, shook his head, and muttered a few expletives. You don’t need direct quotes to get the gist.

He bounced around the minors for a couple of years, finally got his shot in the NHL in his mid-20s, punched a few opponents hard enough to get a new contract, and performed well enough to stick around for a few years before cashing in across the pond.

But he never lost that bitterness. It changed his career because his drafting team wanted him to be someone else, and they felt they needed to send him a message.

Three other members of that team were also high-round picks. They too were sent to the minors to receive their tough love.

One soon after bolted to Russia. Another succumbed to personal demons and another exclaimed something similar to, “Take this job and shove it.”

That NHL team sure proved its point, didn’t it?

I’ve met Josh Ho-Sang and players like him. I gravitate towards them because I feel a kinship with fighting the establishment.

The National Hockey Now family, including this coverage outlet, is the birth of raging against an obtuse machine, which didn’t understand the changing world and the wide range of additional skills available to it.

Ho-Sang’s game is clearly changing and not for the better. Years of being told he must change have taken a toll. He’s no longer the strident kid who knew he could play in the NHL. He scored only two points (1g, 1a) in his most recent 10-game stint in 2018-19.

Last season, he was even banished from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers while Lamoriello allowed his camp to facilitate a trade. Eventually, Chris Lamoriello played peacemaker and Ho-Sang was loaned to San Antonio.

Wouldn’t you have a salty ‘tude if you were trapped by a team which neither likes nor releases you?

At 24-years-old, Ho-Sang is no longer a “prospect.” He had 13 points (4g, 9a) in just 22 games split between Bridgeport and San Antonio of the AHL last season.

Trust me, the NHL conformity standards are brutal. In hockey circles, it’s OK to break a player until they conform. It’s time for that to end.

The young man of color already has a harder road than most, just to get to the NHL. It doesn’t need to be any harder. The New York Islanders should finally decide. They can promote the best of Ho-Sang and let coach Barry Trotz work with the worst, or they can punish him for the worst and live without the best.

Either way, whether it’s NHL ice, or free agency, it’s time. For Josh Ho-Sang and for the New York Islanders. #FreeJoshHoSang

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Bridgeport Sound Tigers

He’s Back! Josh Ho-Sang Returns to Islanders on 1-Year Deal

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Josh Ho-Sang

If you thought Josh Ho-Sang’s time with the New York Islanders was over, guess again.

The Islanders and Josh Ho-Sang came to terms on a 1-year contract extension on Tuesday and avoided an arbitration hearing which had been scheduled for Friday. The short-term deal is worth $700,000 if he plays in the NHL and $200,000 if he ends up in Bridgeport, according to Elliotte Friedman who first reported the news on Tuesday morning.

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Ho-Sang has had a rocky history with the Islanders since the organization drafted him 29th overall in 2014. The now 24-year-old forward has struggled to crack the Islanders lineup and his outspoken nature has often caused himself headaches.

Josh Ho-Sang requested a trade last season and was told by Islanders general manager not to report to AHL Bridgeport while they worked to find a place to send him. The naturally skilled forward did end up reporting to Bridgeport after the Islanders failed to move him and they eventually loaned Ho-Sang to St. Louis’ AHL team in San Antonio.

Ho-Sang has appeared in 53 NHL games with the Islanders and registered seven goals and 17 assists in that span.

Both the Islanders decision to send Ho-Sang a qualifying offer and then Ho-Sang’s decision to file for arbitration surprised many people. Lamoriello sounded perplexed several weeks ago when he was asked about it during a media conference call on Zoom.

“I’m sure you’re all aware that he filed for arbitration, which I was very surprised at,” Lamoriello said at the time. “We’ll have to see what the future brings.”

It’s unclear what role the Islanders envision for Ho-Sang going into next season.

In addition, the Islanders also announced that A.J. Greer had signed a one-year contract as well. Greer was acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in a trade that saw the Islanders send Kyle Burroughs to the Mile High City.

Greer had been a restricted free agent.

Fellow RFA defensemen Mitch Vande Sompel and Parker Wotherspoon signed two-year contract extensions on Tuesday as well.

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