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New York Islanders

Semyon Varlamov Earned Right to Start in Game 1 vs. Florida

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Semyon Varlamov stops a shot from Jesper Fast

After Wednesday’s win over the New York Rangers, New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz wouldn’t indicate who would start Game 1 against the Florida Panthers on Saturday. However, it would be hard to envision it being anyone other than Semyon Varlamov.

The Russian netminder played 40 minutes of the Islanders 2-1 win over the Blueshirts and made 19 saves. He tracked the puck well and made the big saves when he needed to. Then, of course, there were the dazzling saves in the second period on Jesper Fast from point-blank range.

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Earlier, he displayed his ability to move laterally to stop a shot

All of it adds up to the conclusion that Semyon Varlamov should be between the pipes when the Islanders face the Panthers.

That’s not to take anything away from Thomas Greiss, who played well in his 20 minutes of work on Wednesday. Still, at the end of the day, it’s clear who the Islanders No. 1 goaltender is at the moment.

Historically, both goaltenders have fared well against the Florida Panthers. Greiss is 5-2-1 lifetime against them, including winning both starts he had against Florida this season. Greiss also helped backstop the Islanders to their first playoff series victory in 2016 against the Panthers.

Varlamov has never faced Florida in the postseason, but he holds an 8-3-1 record against them in the regular season. That includes a win over the Panthers this season on Oct. 12.

“My goaltending with Varly and Greisser, we’re pretty set,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “You just have to look at the records against Florida, I could throw a dart to the dartboard and I’d feel pretty comfortable. My goaltending is in good shape.”

Isles Insights: Beauvillier, Varlamov Impress in Islanders Exhibition Victory | NYHN+

That bodes well for the Islanders, especially with Game 2 and Game 3 being played on back to back nights. So, the depth is good, but it doesn’t change the fact that Varlamov has earned the nod in the opening game.

Aside from his performance on Wednesday night, there is one stat that gives him the edge, especially with the way the Islanders play. That is the number of “quality starts” he has had during the 2019-20 season.

A goaltender is awarded a “quality start” when they post a save percentage at least as high as the league average for that season or if they allow two goals or less and post a save percentage above that of a replacement-level goalie. Varlamov had 21 “quality starts” during the 2019-20 season, according to Hockey Reference.

Greiss had 15 “quality starts” during the same time, according to Hockey Reference.

Trotz isn’t wrong when he says that he can’t make a bad decision in picking his starter. Both have shown that they can stand up to the challenge.

After Wednesday, however, it’s clear that the starting job Saturday should belong to Semyon Varlamov.

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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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Free Agency

What Will Mat Barzal’s Next Contract Look Like? | NYHN+

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Mat Barzal of the New York Islanders

It is the question that is on every New York Islanders fans’ mind. When will Mat Barzal be re-signed by the Islanders and what will that contract look like?

The 23-year-old Islanders star is due for a pay raise and the team is under a major cap crunch at the moment with just $8.9 million left for next season to work with to re-sign Barzal, fellow restricted free agent Ryan Pulock and possibly some unrestricted free agents. The NHL’s flat salary cap for the foreseeable future also throws a rather unique twist into the already complicated Barzal equation.

Right now the Islanders priority is clearing cap space so that they can work out a deal with Barzal. As has been reported here and various other outlets, Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Andrew Ladd and Leo Komarov are all contracts that could be moved to free up space.

The Case for the New York Islanders to Sign Anthony Duclair

All of those carry a sizable cap hit and general manager Lou Lamoriello needs to clear at least one or two of those to have some wiggle room to work. That is what has held up the rest of the Islanders offseason plans, including re-signing their most valuable piece.

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