The China Question: Wang's wish for the Islanders

File under minor irritants: Josh Bailey is headed home to have his "upper body" injury from the Panthers game looked at ... Martin Biron, who has dressed as backup the last two games, is headed to AHL Bridgeport to get some actual game work in.

But the big long-term news from earlier this week is that Charles Wang has decided to have his team start the 2010-11 season with a handicap. Sure, putting his team behind at the starting gun is not actually Wang's intention -- in truth he seems well-meaning and very big-picture oriented with his continuing efforts to promote hockey in China, what with the rinks and the youth tournaments he's created. As he told Katie Strang:

"The world is much bigger, there is so much more to it than hockey. We have so much, we need to reach out to other people."

Well I agree. But is this the avenue for that outreach?

Public relations aside, there really is no on-ice benefit to having your NHL squad begin the arduous seven-month journey of an NHL season by spending 10 days of its training camp dealing with the logistical, physical, dietary and jet lag headaches of traveling all the way to China, then bouncing around the country, then traveling all the way back. To add to the anywhere-but-Long Island feel to September's camp, they also will play another exhibition game in Saskatoon Sept. 29.

As someone who loves this sport and who is generally a believer in the benefits of international exchange, I try to look at this as a meaningful gesture consistent with Wang's long-running outreach. But as an Islanders fan I can't help feeling the club is undermining next season before it even begins.

I fully believe global relations are more important than hockey, and big unquantifiable gains can be made from small gestures. I'm just not sure using the NHL club's training camp for it is the way to go.

More from Strang:

When asked whether he was concerned about the amount of travel the team will undergo and the potential implications, Wang said:

"If we don't ever try how will we know? The advantage and the reward is far greater than the risk -- being too tired or whatever. We hope this inspires them to a new height."

I wonder if Islanders players were asked of their opinion before this was arranged? (To be fair, the NHLPA signed off.) I wonder if anyone in the organization could tell Wang it's a negative move for hockey operations -- and if such a conclusion would matter?

Because this is greater, farther, and a bigger deal than opening the season in Europe. This is spending 10 days traveling, touring, adjusting to new physiological stimuli -- and preparing for an NHL season not by playing NHL or even AHL competition, but the Chinese national team.

That said, Wang obviously firmly believes any physical troubles will be worth the awe-inspiring experience of visiting one of the world's greatest, oldest cultures:

“We have a young team that’s really coming together,” said Wang, whose family left Shanghai for the United States in 1952.

“They’re great kids, and I want to give them something that will open up their eyes,” he said. “When they see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, it’ll just blow them away. I wanted them to bond together with an experience that will really bring them together, an experience they’re never going to duplicate in their lives.”

People debate whether European travel affects the NHL teams that have opened there, or if it's just an excuse when their seasons wilt. People debate whether training camp really means all that much to today's already in-shape players. Fair enough. Maybe I shouldn't worry.

We will get plenty of warm human-interest stories from the trip. We will get some "The More You Know" moments. But while this trip may be eye-opening and soul-altering for the mostly young players in this franchise's rebuild, it's not going to do much to prepare them for next season. As one of many fans who have been patient through this franchise's struggles to get the on-ice product right, that kind of sucks.

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