SYOSSET, N.Y. (IFP) _ The National Hockey League lockout officially ended Saturday night when a Memo of Understanding was signed between the league and its players association. For the New York Islanders, that meant the beginning of training camp and the end of any illusions they had of being on equal footing with the 29 other NHL teams.
"We have to play now, I guess," said forward Michael Grabner, who enjoyed spending the lockout months living and playing in his hometown of Villacher, Austria. "It'll be a change, for sure. When you're not playing, you can win your division, win the Stanley Cup, set the league on fire. Anything is possible. But when you actually start to play, it's tough.
"There are other teams out there that are way better than us."
During the layoff, several Islanders continued to play hockey without the pressure of expectations, like March or April in a typical season. John Tavares and Mark Streit were both key players for Bern in Switzerland and Josh Bailey spent a productive six games in Germany, scoring three goals and eight assists. The Islanders announced Saturday that Bailey would miss 2-4 weeks with an injured knee, beginning what is sure to be an impressive and sad list of ailments for the team this season.
"The key for us is always health," said head coach Jack Capuano. "During a lockout, everyone's as healthy as a horse and ready to go with real consistent smart, hard hockey. Now that we're back, we have to tell the truth. We'll have to make the adjustment. It shouldn't be too hard."
For Bailey, whose high draft position in 2008 is has been questioned often, coming back to the NHL is another chance to show people flashes of skill and hockey sense, as well as weeks of ineffectiveness and confusion.
"It's time to get to work and come out strong," said Bailey. "Or not. Could be either one, really. Even I have no idea. That's what's so frustrating."
The Islanders have already called two junior hockey prospects to camp -- forward and 2011 fifth overall pick Ryan Strome and the 2012 4th overall pick, defenseman Griffin Reinhart. Both are projected to be full time NHLers in the near future, if not stars, which is very easy when you're playing against 17-year-olds and not the best professional hockey players in the world.
"Being a highly-touted prospect is great," said Strome. "Until you realize that pretty much every team has highly-touted prospects. I'm not sure whose in charge of the touting, but I'm told it's very easy to go from highly-touted to lightly-touted."
The Islanders have also recalled six players from their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, Conn., although it's expected that they'll all stink and that the guys who really should be called up will be stuck riding busses while the big club gets its ass kicked nightly with a mismatched and ineffective roster.
For the fifth straight year, oft-injured goalie Rick DiPietro said he felt healthy and was ready for the season to start. But the lockout's conclusion also meant the end of DiPietro's participation in the CBA negotiations, which mark the most productive period he's had in years.
"I'll miss those meetings," DiPietro said with a single teardrop soaking into his voluminous beard. "It was great being a part of something really special and not needing to wear skates or pads or ice or gauze. Maybe I'll have that feeling on the ice this year, but I doubt it."
NOTES: Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky will miss the start of training camp with what experts are calling "Hyper Extended Senioritis." When reached for comment, Visnovsky channeled U.S. history: "What Jefferson was saying was, 'Hey! You know, we left this England place 'cause it was bogus; so if we don't get some cool rules ourselves - pronto - we'll just be bogus too! Get it?'"... NHL television schedules were announced late Saturday and the Islanders will play two nationally televised games - Jan. 29th against Pittsburgh and Feb. 26th against Boston. NBCSports Network tells The Islanders Fan Press that the person responsible for selecting those games is no longer with the network.
This is satire. These are not real quotes. Happy 2013 season!