For better or worse, NHL hockey doesn’t breed the same kind of drama that other sports do. Due to the sport’s conservative culture, most players would rather give reporters a bland cliche and move on than rock the boat. New York Islanders forward prospect Josh Ho-Sang isn’t like every other NHL player, though.
After several seasons bouncing between the Islanders and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the club’s AHL affiliate, the relationship has seemingly reached its breaking point. Ho-Sang has asked for a trade but, regardless of where he ends up, neither party will be too happy with the resolution.
Josh Ho-Sang’s untapped potential
Ever since Ho-Sang’s time in juniors, he developed a reputation as a mercurial talent with some off-ice baggage. The New York Islanders appeared to be willing to work with him, however. They drafted the winger towards the end of the first round in the 2014 NHL draft; when general manager Garth Snow was asked about Ho-Sang’s reputation, he famously quipped “He’ll fit right in. They s*** on me too.” That patience, however, didn’t last for long.
After spending the 2014-15 season with his junior club, Ho-Sang attended the Islanders’ training camp. He overslept on the first day, however, and was promptly sent home and told to grow up. He seemed to take the message to heart and posted another productive season in the OHL, earning him a spot with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for the 2016-17 season.
Ever since then, Ho-Sang has remained in limbo. Each season, he puts up solid, if unremarkable numbers, playing in the AHL. He’ll get called up to the Islanders when there’s an injury, play a few games on the fourth line, and get sent back down. This year, however, he finally requested a trade; he’s playing in the AHL while the Islanders try to move him.
[Ho-Sang is] going around to teams and he’s letting them know he will do whatever it takes to get a fresh start, including start in the American Hockey League,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said on Hockey Night in Canada. “So, if that’s what a team wants him to do, he will do it.”
Letting NHL talent walk away
While it would be disingenuous to pretend that Ho-Sang is a guaranteed NHL star, he’s definitely deserving of a chance. He’s recorded 24 points during his 53 appearances at the highest level, which isn’t a terrible return given his uneven usage as an injury substitute. He’s also put up solid possession numbers, which may be more indicative of his performance than goals and assists at this stage.
By failing to give him a shot, the Islanders are continuing a trend of NHL conservativism. Teams insist on trusting veteran players who are “good in the room” and fill a bottom-six role. Ho-Sang would be cheaper and more skilled than someone like Leo Komarov, for example, but the latter player is a gritty veteran who can kill penalties.
While trading Ho-Sang isn’t going to doom the Islanders, it represents poor asset management.
Josh Ho-Sang and conservative hockey culture
Beyond his on-ice production, Ho-Sang has also faced unfair criticism from some hockey fans for trivial reasons. During 2017, for example, social media turned on the winger for wearing Mario Lemieux’s number 66. It didn’t matter that Ho-Sang was playing for a different franchise or doing it out of respect for the legend; he was branded as a disrespectful kid who needed to learn his place.
While that was a fan reaction, hockey front offices still remain an old boys club. It’s not impossible that Ho-Sang’s trade request could ruffle a few feathers among old school organizations and make him a persona non grata.
In an ideal world, Josh Ho-Sang will get traded to an organization where he gets a legitimate chance to succeed or fail on his own merits. Unfortunately, hockey culture may ensure that this split ends badly for both parties.