As usual, Islanders' new season filled with questions

Josh Bailey #12 of the New York Islanders Josh Bailey #12 of the New York Islanders passes against the San Jose Sharks. (Oct. 29, 2011) Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

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There is uncertainty all around the NHL as training camps open Sunday for this 48-game season.

Even in that environment, the Islanders are a pretty big question mark as they take the ice in Syosset for a six-day camp.

General manager Garth Snow, hoping to avoid a sixth consecutive season out of the playoffs, is wrangling with more issues than just a crazy schedule and an uphill climb in the tough Atlantic Division.

Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, acquired from the Ducks in a June trade, still is in Slovakia. He's the last player left in the KHL with a valid NHL contract, but he has no desire to leave his home and play the shortened season with a new NHL team.

And Josh Bailey, who finished so strong last season, will miss up to a month after having arthroscopic surgery on his knee Wednesday. Bailey suffered the injury while playing in Germany during the lockout.

The Islanders have John Tavares, who prepared for this sprint of a season by racking up points in the Swiss League. They have a few good depth signings in Brad Boyes, Matt Carkner and, most likely, Radek Martinek, their longtime defenseman, who will come to camp with a one-year deal to add a veteran presence on defense.

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But there are so many unknowns with a team that was pretty confounding in a full 82-game schedule a season ago.

"The first thing is health, clearly," coach Jack Capuano said this past week. "We need to know where our guys are physically, and then we need to be on the same page from day one."

The Islanders had seven regulars play in Europe during the lockout, and they will have up to six players in camp Sunday who have been playing in Bridgeport.

They all hope that game experience will help them get off to a fast start.

On the plus side, 2010 first-round picks Nino Niederreiter and Brock Nelson have played well enough in the AHL to earn spots with the Isles, though Nelson just returned from a broken jaw.

Travis Hamonic, who missed a month with the Sound Tigers with a concussion, also is back and ready to increase his responsibilities on defense.

The Isles also are counting on Evgeni Nabokov to shoulder the load in goal. He missed a month early last season, and the Islanders were out of the playoff chase when he came back. He cannot afford any early injuries now.

"There's never a margin for error as a goalie," Nabokov said. "Whether it's the 60th game or the first game, long season or short season, you have to be ready at the start or it's going to be problems."

Bailey's injury and Visnovsky's uncertainty increase the likelihood that 2011 first-rounder Ryan Strome, 19, will stick with the team this season.

"I've had a good half a season so far, and there's a lot of guys who haven't been playing anywhere," Strome said. "I like where my game's at and I feel like I know I have to prove it every day next week to make this team."

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Like almost everything else related to this team, that remains to be seen.

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