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Graziano: Islanders Training Camp Primer, Part II: Reasons for Concern

Andy Graziano
August 22, 2018 - 2:31 pm
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In our first training camp primer, I gave the optimistic Islanders fans four reasons to believe that this season might not turn out as bad as the pundits' predictions might lead you to believe. 

I gave reasons why New York could exceed the modest expectations being put forth in the general media, leading them to overachieve and give fans more to cheer about that they originally expected. I gave reasons why they could challenge for a playoff berth in a hotly contested Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference.

As with any point (argument if you’re on social media), there is always a counterpoint. In this case, there are also some good reasons for the pessimistic Islanders fans to hold onto that feeling of dread and prepare themselves for a choppy ride this season as the team acclimates itself to president/general manager Lou Lamoriello’s managerial style and Barry Trotz’s coaching changes that are sure to be implemented, especially on the defensive side of the puck.

So, without further ado, here are four reasons why New York could struggle and end up in another playoff-less season.

1. Current personnel doesn't take to Trotz’s systematic changes

Make no mistake, Trotz will make changes. And those changes will almost assuredly be focused in the defensive zone. New York allowed an astonishing 296 goals against last year, dead last in the league and the most it allowed in a single season since 1995-96 (315). The Isles put themselves behind the proverbial eight-ball regularly, being outscored in the first two periods 195-159 and trailing entering the third period in 40 of 82 games.

What did they do to rectify the situation? Dragged their feet with Calvin de Haan, leading to the defender leaving for Carolina, and adding nobody. Can Johnny Boychuk stay healthy? Can Nick Leddy rebound from a nightmare season? Can Thomas Hickey stop taking so much physical punishment? Does Scott Mayfield, Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech continue to grow at a faster pace than they might be afforded somewhere else? Does Devon Toews come in and grab a spot in training camp?

On top of all that, do the players currently on the roster take to Trotz’s changes and actually start playing, I don’t know, defense? (Yes, I’m looking at you, too, forwards). There are too many questions that right now, don’t have anything close to resembling a confident answer.

2. Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle and Josh Bailey suffer a Long Island JT hangover and regress

Lee has become one of the NHL's top power wingers, putting up 74 goals over the past two seasons, missing only one game and playing primarily with the departed John Tavares. He has averaged 29.6 goals per 82 games over his first four-plus years in the league.

Bailey came into his own, staking claim to his first All-Star Game and finishing with career highs in goals, assists and points, again playing primarily with Tavares. It earned Bailey a six-year contract extension worth $5 million per season.

Eberle was paired with newly minted first-line center Mathew Barzal and developed instant chemistry in his first season with New York since coming over in a lopsided trade with the Edmonton Oilers. Eberle potted 25 goals and 59 points, also missing just one game all season.

Trotz told The Athletic’s Arthur Staple, "This team can score, with John Tavares or without John Tavares." That will be put to the test immediately, as the offensive fortunes or misfortunes of the aforementioned three will go a long way in determining how competitive the Islanders can stay through the 2018-19 season. Can Lee and Bailey produce similar results with Barzal, if even given the opportunity? Does Trotz dare pull Eberle away from the rookie of the year, even though the two showed ridiculous chemistry last season, instead putting him with the inconsistent Brock Nelson?

3. Mitch Korn and Piero Greco are unable to work their magic on Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner

Greiss suffered a severe regression last season under siege of a barrage of shots from high-danger scoring areas, seeing his goals-against average rise for the second consecutive season to 3.82 from 2.69 and 2.36. His save percentage was also down to an abysmal .892, from .913 and .925.

Lehner comes over from Buffalo on a one-year, prove-it deal after the Islanders were unable to sign Carter Hutton away from the Blues, as the latter decided on taking over for the former between the pipes in upstate New York. The 6-foot-4, 245-pounder comes over with a volatile attitude to match his size and has started over 50 games the past two years, posting averages of 2.68 and 3.01 with save percentages of .920 and .908. Glimpses of being a solid No. 1 have been there, but is the consistency? Unfortunately, the Islanders need more than glimpses. There have been plenty of those.

If Korn and Greco cannot match what they did under their former employers, it could be another long season of 7-5 losses and blown third-period leads.

4. The Josh Ho-Sang conundrum

Ho-Sang has all the talent to be a top-six winger in the National Hockey League. There is no questioning that. It’s what’s upstairs and beating in his chest that will speak the loudest as he enters a defining season. Seemingly given new life under Trotz and Lamoriello, Ho-Sang will be given every opportunity to seize a 23-man roster spot coming out of training camp. It’s simple to say but rings so true when it comes to Ho-Sang: It’s really up to him.

If Ho-Sang dedicates himself to his play off the puck and starts walking around acting like a professional, the Islanders' patience would have been repaid in spades and the feeling is his career would take off. If he doesn’t, it could spell the end of his time on Long Island, as he will find himself quick trade bait at the hands of the new president and general manager. All that potential will equate to nothing, and the Islanders will be down a potential difference-making winger, the kind that doesn’t just grow on trees.

As a wise Lorenzo Anello once said, "There is nothing worse than wasted talent."

Follow Andy on Twitter at @AndyGraz_WFAN