Trade would be best for both Islanders, Ho-Sang

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The old New York Islanders regime seemed to be beyond the point of no return with fledgling prospect Josh Ho-Sang, and it doesn’t sound like things are a whole lot better now that Lou Lamoriello is in charge.

In what’s becoming a stomach-churning tradition, Ho-Sang sounded off on his situation (in the AHL, and in his opinion, not even used all that much by the Bridgeport Sound Tigers) in a candid interview with Brett Cyrgalis of The New York Post.

Ho-Sang, 22, believes that management already had their minds made up about him, and also believes that he’s receiving mixed messages.

“They tell me they want me to be a top-six forward up there, but I’m not a top-six forward down here, so it’s confusing,” Ho-Sang said. “Sometimes, it’s like you’re sprinting with a rubber band on. You constantly have tension. You run until you’re exhausted and then the band is going to pull you back. If I was going to say anything, it would be just watch. I’m just pointing it out.”

(The full story is absolutely worth your time.)

Unfortunately, the AHL doesn’t share ice-time information, so you need to rely on firsthand accounts of whether Ho-Sang is really receiving proper opportunities or not. Isles Blog’s Rob Taub captured the dueling takes on his work in the AHL, noting that: on one hand, there are opportunities for Ho-Sang, yet:

Indeed, it’s puzzling that the Islanders organization wouldn’t have issues with 33-year-old Steve Bernier seemingly getting equal or better opportunities than a player 11 years younger.

To clarify, NHL teams face competing motivations when it comes to nursing prospects at lower levels, including the AHL.

While you want merit to be important and that team to be competitive, it’s also imperative that younger players receive opportunities to sink or swim, and to learn from mistakes. At minimum, teams need to optimize their assets, and “burying” Ho-Sang only tanks his already-declining trade value.

And let’s be honest. At this point, Ho-Sang’s aired his grievances in brutally honest ways a few times now. It’s true that such a strategy won’t really make friends in the front office – especially in the almost comically secretive world of hockey – it’s also plausible that Ho-Sang feels like he doesn’t have a lot of other choices.

It sure feels like bridges have already been burned, and neither side is doing a whole lot to rebuild. That’s unfortunate because, as incomplete as his game may be, Ho-Sang’s already shown plenty of flashes of brilliant skill, including at the NHL level.

Honestly, from the outside looking in, it would probably be wise for both sides to move on via trade, even if the Islanders likely would have received a much better return if they moved Ho-Sang … a few impasses ago.

For one thing, a trade would improve Ho-Sang’s morale, while opening up space for a player who has more of a clean slate with the franchise. There might be a temptation to roll your eyes at Ho-Sang’s predicament, but an unhappy player can be a catalyst for an unhappy locker room.

That eloquent rubber band metaphor was a not-so-subtle clue that Ho-Sang is truly languishing in the AHL, a notion backed up by mediocre numbers (zero goals, four assists in nine games, -8 rating) and tweets like these:

(His Twitter banner also reads: “Your love makes me strong; your hate makes me unstoppable.”)

While the Islanders have scored at a more respectable rate than many expected (a decent 30 goals in 10 games, a rate that ties them for 16th in the NHL), it’s easy to picture scenarios where Ho-Sang could give them a boost, even if his gambling style would drive Barry Trotz up the wall. A stronger team would likely aim to have Ho-Sang as its third-line winger instead of Leo Komarov, as much as Trotz and Lamoriello seem enamored with hits.

Again, we’ve likely passed the best-case scenario.

Yet, like Eric Duhatschek discussed in The Athletic (sub required), sometimes you don’t have to “win” a trade to improve chemistry and morale. Duhatschek discussed as much in remembering former GM Cliff Fletcher’s philosophies.

Mostly he made the trade to shake up his own team, which he felt needed a reminder that, in professional sport, change eventually follows if things start to sputter. In short, Fletcher wasn’t necessarily trying to “win” the trade, the way so many GMs nowadays feel they have to do.

He believed that change for the sake of change sometimes had a positive impact on the whole, because it stirred up the chemistry of a team that was running flat.

Have we reached that point where the Islanders should simply trade Ho-Sang for, well, another organization’s version of Ho-Sang?

His prodigious skill might make that a tough gamble to stomach, yet I’d say yes.

At worst, the Islanders just get a new coat of paint for an old problem. Ideally, though, Ho-Sang would receive a fresh start while the Isles might receive a player more likely to help them in the future.

A trade wouldn’t just be an act of mercy for Ho-Sang. Chances are, it would also be the best thing for both the team and the player.

In the meantime, we’ll reach for our popcorn, waiting for the next wave of drama from this combustible situation.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.