So the New York Islanders won’t be getting a new building after all. It figures, I guess. Nothing has gone right there for a couple of decades, it seems.
I’m not sure exactly how the Islanders have ended up in the mess they are still mired in. I guess it’s a combination of poor ownership over many years, equally inept management decisions (see absurdly long contacts to Yashin and DiPietro and some awful trades…) and well, the fact that other than a relatively few loyal Isle fans, virtually no one seems to care about the franchise anymore.
Don’t get me wrong. I know the history well. I saw the team develop from an under-manned, talent-thin expansion franchise in the early 1970s to a four-time Stanley Cup winning franchise with a once-proud legacy.
At the very beginning, they had former Boston Bruin penalty-killing specialist Eddie Westfall and not a lot else. But he provided tremendous leadership and they built—slowly but wisely and surely.
I don’t have to look up the names of their early-year draft choices. I was a rabid Leaf/hockey fan in those days and knew exactly what they were doing. Whereas Atlanta Flames GM Cliff Fletcher was building with veterans, Bill Torrey on the Island was selecting stud junior prospects and building for the future.
Billy Harris from the Marlies. Denis Potvin from the Ottawa 67’s. Then Bryan Trottier and Clark Gillies. The list goes on of young players who made up the core of a really good young hockey club. Billy Smith, a seemingly nondescript goalie with the LA Kings, was picked up by the Islanders and became a Hall-of-Famer.
But, as with the Leafs in the 1980s, that wonderful heritage, that history, has been tarnished by lousy ownership and now almost 20 years of losing. This franchise has not won a playoff round since, what, 1993?
The team plays in a terrible old building. They have payers who, if they had any choice, would likely never go to play there.
I’m not suggesting there isn’t good young talent on this team. There certainly is and there should be, given that the team has been poor for so long. They have had all kinds of opportunities to draft talent but they have not done a very good job or they would be a much better team by now. Many other organizations have re-built successfully in far less time.
No, this is not the same franchise that once boasted two of the finest minds in hockey, Torrey and long-time coach (and former Leaf Cup winner) Al Arbour.
I say virtually no one “cares” about the franchise (the NHL itself, the owner, most fans at this point…) because it has been left to essentially drift into irrelevance. I wonder if this was New York (Rangers), LA or Montreal, if the league would have found a way to do something to right the ship by now.
This team has to move, somewhere. Three teams in that huge market may sound reasonable, and yes, those three franchises have co-existed for years. But surely there are other markets that would welcome an NHL franchise with open arms.
Again, I’m not knocking the fans. The Islander fans have simply been worn down by neglect. My answer—and one that will never happen—is simply to contract the team.
Poof, it’s gone.
Pay off the owner, and either free up the players to sign elsewhere, or have a good old-fashioned dispersal draft. Some teams would be more than happy to have Tavares, Moulson or Grabner in the fold, eh?
Looking at the roster, it’s shocking that there isn’t an even better base to build with, given the opportunity to draft great young talent with high picks through these many years. But again, the youngsters aside, what veteran players in their prime want to go there, unless they are offered ridiculous contracts?
It’s really sad. Has there been another NHL franchise that has been so bad, for so long, and nothing has been done about it? Heck, even the Pittsburgh Pirates in baseball, another once-proud franchise that had been driven into the ground over the past almost 20 years, are making a playoff push this season.
But they have what the Islanders need, a new building, and they have finally spent a bit (which hasn’t been the Islanders problem—if anything, the Isles too often have spent on the wrong guys…) and re-built their farm system. People are starting to come back to watch the team play.
Maybe a new building, and a smarter management approach, could do that for the Islanders. But if they have to play four more years in that old building, I just don’t see it happening.
What I do see is Tavares leaving there as soon as he gets a chance, regardless of how much loyalty he may feel to the team that drafted him, or how much they will be willing to pay him. He’d be a very good guy to keep building around, but I anticipate his frustration growing if things don’t soon improve.
Between the late 1970s and the late 1980s, the Islanders were the NHL’s model franchise. A few years from now, they may not even exist.
And that’s a shame.