Graziano: Questions, Not Answers, After Islanders Open Preseason

Andy Graziano
September 19, 2019 - 10:45 am

Preseason hockey was something I could never wrap my head around.

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Not that it isn’t needed, mind you, I am not trying to suggest we scrap it for three weeks of practice. But, especially early on, teams often send mostly AHL squads with a smattering of veterans to take a leisurely stroll around the ice surface while grinders fight for seemingly no reason in an attempt to turn back the clock ten years to when that got you a roster spot.

The Islanders’ first two games followed a similar pattern as they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in both sides of a home and home. The veterans looked slow and uninterested, the rookies came to play and the grinders … grinded.

Where that leaves the Islanders is still in limbo as they await the opening of the regular season on Oct. 4 against the Washington Capitals — a search for offense and a way to relieve the glut of defenseman.

Restricted free agents are coming off the board, led by the “never going to be a reality” in Mitch Marner, but the Winnipeg Jets still remain a question mark as camp progresses. Patrik Laine is still holding out for a deal and making what some look at as selfish comments in the media about the quality of his line mates. Kyle Connor is sans deal also and Dustin Byfuglien is said to be pondering his future. 

The Islanders, by some reports, are still willing to deal Nick Leddy in the right package in an effort to acquire a proven top-nine forward, potentially freeing up $5.5 million in cap space. Thomas Hickey is also there for the taking, with President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello likely willing to get just draft picks back for the 30-year-old who seems without a set spot in the lineup.

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What they could bring back depends on what teams are willing to give up and the reality is nobody knows for sure who exactly that is. Trade talk around the league has been predictably quiet and Lamoriello especially keeps things close to his chest. Noah Dobson played exceptionally well last on Tuesday, but remember who the opposition was. The game was nowhere near NHL speed and I have always maintained the learning curve on defense is steep — very steep at this level.

That’s not to say he won’t be a star in the league, maybe even the Islanders’ top defenseman sometime in the near future. Just be cautious about how you evaluate players in these games that simply mean nothing. New York slowly brought Ryan Pulock along and fans seemingly waited forever to see Devon Toews, both playing now to rave reviews. It sometimes takes time.

Oliver Wahlstrom and Keiffer Bellows seem destined for another season in the AHL, barring injuries, and who knows what to make of Joshua Ho-Sang, who has been a disciplined student so far early in the school year. Head coach Barry Trotz has been known to like his veterans which ultimately means he’s not likely to quickly move on from players like Hickey, Leo Komarov and Johnny Boychuk - especially at that salary.

For now, we just wait and watch. Wait to see if Lamoriello has anything up his sleeve while celebrating the return of hockey. Even if it is preseason hockey.

Follow Andy on Twitter: @AndyGraz_WFAN