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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

Welcome to your new home for New York Islanders breaking news, analysis and opinion. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and don't forget to subscribe to NYHN+ for all of our members-only content from Christian Arnold and the National Hockey Now network.
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Jason Morey

By all that is sacred, you take the cake. What in the world do you mean that the NHL, or any other business for that matter, has to just accept people being A-h@les?! There’s a standard that everyone should aspire to. If that means playing defense and not turning the puck over 5 times a night, and having a -2 rating even though you managed 3 pts, then you play defense and you stop crying like a baby. Grow up! Life is hard, so sorry your teachers coddled you and led you to believe that “everyone is a winner”.

FUJT

You do realize that lou set him free and not 1 team claimed him . jhs has 1 last chance to take advantage of it

New York Islanders

Islanders Players React After Eye Injury Ends Johnny Boychuk’s Career

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Johnny Boychuk

It wasn’t too loo long after Johnny Boychuk announced he was ending his 13-year NHL career that the reaction from current and former teammates started to pour in.

Johnny Boychuk spent the past six seasons as a member of the New York Islanders and the guys he took the ice with on a nightly basis praised the 36-year-old defenseman for the person and player he was. Part of the legacy Boychuk leaves behind from his time on Long Island was just how important a leader he was in the locker room.

All of that showed as players reacted to the news on social media.

“It’s been an honor to share the ice with you,” Anthony Beauvillier wrote on Instagram. “Proud to call you a friend. You’ll truly be missed. Much love JB”

Others took to Twitter to wish Boychuk well in his post-playing days and share their memories of playing alongside him.

Even former Islanders netminder Robin Lehner took a moment to honor his former teammate.

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New York Islanders

Arnold: Johnny Boychuk Helped Change Perception, Culture of New York Islanders

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New York Islanders Defenceman Johnny Boychuk (55) during warm-up before National Hockey League action between the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators

Johnny Boychuk paused several times during his Zoom call with the reporters less than an hour after news broke that his 13 year NHL career had come to an end. The emotions of the moment getting the better of him for a second or two.

The often goofy Boychuk tried to remain his usual self, but the sadness of the situation was clearly visible as Boychuk discussed the previous few months and how an eye injury he suffered in March had led to the end of his playing days.

Johnny Boychuk looked back fondly at the past six years that he spent with the Islanders, where he appeared in 404 games and recorded 35 goals and 95 assists. He recalled how he spent a majority of that time partnered with Nick Leddy, who was acquired within hours of Boychuk back on Oct. 4, 2014.

And the 36-year-old defenseman discussed how his greatest memory of being an Islander was the people he came across.

“Meeting the people on the Island,” Boychuk started to say before pausing to regain his composure. “From the arena attendants to the security guards to the media. The players, the coaches, the staff. I mean the management, the owners. Meeting all these great people. There have been so many good memories. … It’s tough to process everything at one time.”

What became abundantly clear in the hours after Boychuk announced the end of his career was the place he holds in Islanders fans’ hearts.

Yes, Johnny Boychuk won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins and spent six years in Beantown, but some of his most significant contributions came during his time on Long Island. And the biggest was the faith he showed when re-signing with the Islanders in 2015.

The signing went well beyond just making the Islanders a better team, it helped start to chip away at the perception that Long Island wasn’t a place top-tier talent wanted to stay. What Boychuk, and subsequently Leddy, gave the Islanders was a sense of credibility back that they had been lacking for some time.

“I’d seen it before where guys would come to the Island and they would leave within a year or two,” Boychuk said on Wednesday. “When I got traded to the Island we had a good group of young players, but now they’re veteran players. They’ve got experience and I think a lot of guys see potential in the Islanders. It’s a good place to play, to be with your family and to have a bond together as a team. It will continue to just get better and better.

“I think the fans realized it. I didn’t realize it at the time when I first got traded, but after being there a year I realized what it was to be an Islander and you take pride in it.”

Boychuk made an indelible mark on the Islanders organization through leadership on and off the ice. He won over fans through his gritty style of play and give it all attitude. Boychuk left it all on the ice with every shift.

He nearly brought the roof down in 2015 during a desperation clear in the closing seconds of the second period of Game 3 of the Islanders First Round series against Washington. And there were plenty more moments like that throughout his time on Long Island.

Boychuk may have never won a Stanley Cup with the Islanders, but he helped change the culture and perception of an organization that needed it. While he may not be retiring on the terms he would have liked, Boychuk can take some solace in knowing the franchise is in a much better place now than it was when he arrived.

“I think everybody has seen the transformation of how the team did that to themselves,” Boychuk said. “With Lou (Lamoriello) and Barry (Trotz) coming in halfway through my time on the Island it’s just been getting better and better as well. It will continue to get better and better because we play together and we play for each other, and we always will.”

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New York Islanders

Johnny Boychuk’s Career Ends Due to Eye Injury

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Johnny Boychuk

The NHL career of Johnny Boychuk came to an end on Wednesday after 13 seasons.

The New York Islanders announced that Boychuk’s time in the NHL had come to an end due to an eye injury he suffered during the regular season. Boychuk was clipped by the skate of the Montreal Canadiens’ Artturi Lehkonen on March 3 just above his eyelid.

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The gruesome injury required 90 stitches to repair the cut, but it did not preclude Johnny Boychuk from playing briefly during the postseason this year. While Boychuk did appear in three games during the playoffs over the summer, he did begin to feel the injury start to become an issue again.

“I kind of felt it in the bubble a little bit, but when I got out I started to work out and I really realized there was something wrong,” Boychuk said during a Zoom call Wednesday afternoon. “I went and got it checked out and after I got it checked out I let Lou know what was going on. It’s been two months of doctors and MRIs and X-Rays. It’s been a while.”

After months of tests and exams, the results Boychuk got back were eye-opening, he said during the call. Doctors told the veteran defenseman that his prereferral vision was “pretty bad” and that there was some optic nerve damage.

Doctors even went as far as to tell Boychuk that some of the damage to his eye was irreversible. The news was serious enough that it took any decision Boychuk was going to have right out of his hands.

“When somebody tells you you’re not going to play again or you shouldn’t or else you’re going to get seriously hurt it’s been really tough,” he said. “I don’t even think it was a decision. When you play with it and realize there’s something wrong and then you go and get tests. It wasn’t really a decision, it was a life choice.

“If I was to go play again and not being able to see somebody coming and getting hit, I could be a lot worse than what I was.”

While Boychuk’s career is coming to an end, the 36-year-old wasn’t quite sure if he was officially retiring or if he was being placed on LTIR. Boychuk had two years remaining on his contract and the Islanders would be able to use his $6 million cap hit if they put him on LTIR.

The Islanders have a mere $3.9 million in cap space with restricted free agent Mathew Barzal still unsigned.

“The injury is causing me to stop playing, so I don’t know if it’s retiring or LTIR,” Boychuk said. “I just know that it’s going to cause me to not play because it’s basically not safe for me if I can’t see things coming. For the future, I have no idea what to do because this has just been two months of going to doctors and I’m trying to think about what I can do after, but I’m not too sure yet.

“I want to be on the Island obviously. We built a house there, so there was no plans on leaving, but I just don’t know.”

Johnny Boychuk has spent the last six seasons with the Islanders, appearing in 404 games and recording 131 points (35 goals, 96 assists). He was acquired by the Islanders on Oct. 4, 2014, from the Boston Bruins in exchange for a pair of second-round picks.

Boychuk signed a seven-year contract extension later that season.

Prior to his trade to New York, Johnny Boychuk spent six years with Boston where he appeared in 317 games and won a Stanley Cup in 2011. In addition, Boychuk spent one season with the Colorado Avalanche.

Welcome to your new home for New York Islanders breaking news, analysis and opinion. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and don't forget to subscribe to NYHN+ for all of our members-only content from Christian Arnold and the National Hockey Now network.
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