Islanders organization prepares for quick turnaround
Kyle Okposo has been keeping in touch with his Islanders teammates via group text -- an idea that Frans Nielsen had a few weeks back to ensure that the team remembered that it is a team, even with no end to the lockout in sight -- and now he's ready for the real thing.
With the agreement early Sunday morning that all but ended the 113-day lockout, Okposo is ready to pack up his belongings and drive from Minnesota to Long Island to get the abbreviated 2013 season under way.
"I'm pretty sick of working out," he said Sunday morning. "We've had some good skates out here, but I woke up happy this morning. We're all excited to get back to the Island and get going."
Sunday was a day for that sort of nervous wonderment -- from players eager to get training camp started who didn't know when that will happen, to coach Jack Capuano and general manager Garth Snow wondering what sort of shape their players will be in when they arrive for pre-camp physicals and conditioning tests this week.
"You know you have to hit the ground running," said Capuano, who spent the weekend behind the bench with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, assisting coach Scott Pellerin while evaluating some of the potential Islanders on the AHL roster. "I'd say we're ready. We were ready in September."
The Isles are unlikely to add more players than they now have under contract for what will be, at most, a seven-day training camp before a 48-game season begins Jan. 19, according to reports.
But there are question marks. Travis Hamonic (concussion) has been sidelined for Bridgeport since Dec. 2. He began feeling better last week and is to resume skating Monday or Tuesday. "Just in time, I guess," he said. David Ullstrom, Casey Cizikas and Brock Nelson, three Sound Tigers who could see action with the team, also have missed time with injuries.
Michael Grabner hasn't played in his native Austria since Nov. 30 because of an abdominal muscle tear. He is one of eight Isles under contract who need to make their way back from Europe, along with John Tavares, Mark Streit, Josh Bailey, Andrew MacDonald, Nielsen, Jesse Joensuu and Lubomir Visnovsky.
Visnovsky, who filed a grievance over his trade to the Islanders from the Ducks on NHL draft day, is mulling an offer from Slovan Bratislava, the KHL team he has been playing with, to stay the remainder of the year. Transfer rules would appear to restrict Visnovsky from doing so, given that he has a contract with the Isles, but Neil Sheehy, Visnovsky's agent, had not heard from his client as of Sunday night.
There's also the case of 2011 first-round pick Ryan Strome, who just finished competing for Canada in the World Junior championships. Because the CBA has not been ratified, there's no determination on rules regarding junior-eligible players attending NHL camps or, as they could under the previous CBA, dressing for nine games before burning a year of their contracts. So Snow is awaiting word before he extends an invite to Strome or 2012 first-rounder Griffin Reinhart.
There is not much time to sort out these issues. But there is excitement about having such problems to solve.
"We want to play, that's the bottom line," said Evgeni Nabokov, who will be traveling from his home in Northern California. "So we're happy the lockout is over and we can play."