No New Taxes: Exit Polls Look Terrible For Islanders

Numerous news outlets are reporting that turnout is “abysmally low.”  It was thought that holding an August vote would be advantageous for the team considering most voters would be diehards.  Apparently, the turnout is so low that not even the diehards are showing up.  In some places, the vote is 3-1 against the bond issuance.

Ladies and gentleman, I hate to break this to my fellow Islanders but our hockey team will be playing elsewhere in October 2015.  In fact, I’m sure more than a few Canadian city mayors will visit Long Island tempting Charles Wang to move his team to the Great White North.  Nassau County seems to have lost any reasonable links to its Islanders.  Essentially, no one important remembers Trottier, Bossy, Gillies, Nystrom and Smith.  If you ask anyone with enough money to save this franchise, none could accurately describe the magic of the early 1980s.  Simply put, hopes of a dynastic revival are dying.

The question that exists now is to where the Islanders will call home after they bid adieu to Long Island.  I suspect Phoenix and Nashville will have already relocated by 2015.  One of those teams will occupy Quebec, the other will possibly take KC or Milwaukee.  Understandably, Kansas City has been linked numerous times with the Isles.  For years, Hamilton, ON has been lobbying for an NHL team and they may yet have their wish granted.  More than a handful of teams are in unsustainable situations.  It is unfortunate because the Islanders are in a terrific location, just outside NYC.  Perhaps if the worst occurs, Wang can relinquish our four Stanley Cup banners to the county. And when the time is right, Nassau can build a true arena meant for a future Islanders team, and those banners can hang from the rafters once again.


Islanders Vote: Long Island Hockey on the Line

Nassau County residents head to the polls today to vote on a $400 million bond issue to finance a new coliseum for the New York Islanders and a minor league ballpark for the Ducks.  Polling indicates there is opposition to the plan because Nassau is in financial ruin.  The county is already running a huge deficit.  Nassau’s financial situation is so tenuous that it remains under the auspices of the state’s Nassau County Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) which was created to get the county’s spending under control.  If the deal is approved by voters, both NIFA and a supermajority of county legislators must approve it.  It’s still an uphill battle for Isles owner Charles Wang and County Exec. Edward Mangano to sell the plan to NIFA and the Legislature even if the voters approve the bond.

I’m was born and raised on Long Island.  Hell, virtually every 17th century town charter has a signature of one of my ancestors on it.  I’m a proud Islander.  I hate the damn place so that should show you my affection for it.  Some things are just wrong.  The Islanders moving away fits that definition.  It would be as if Billy Joel suddenly disowned Long Island or the Montauk Lighthouse fell into the Atlantic.  OK, those would be travesties but local hockey fans will have a collective stroke if the Islanders bolt.

Multiple plans have been put forth over the past decade to replace Nassau Coliseum.  None have been acceptable to a broad base of residents or politicians.  Suffice it to say, the Coliseum is a dump and should be razed immediately.  The Islanders cannot profit there.  Unfortunately, the best option that would’ve relocated the Isles to a new venue across from CitiField was obliterated when the Madoff scandal hit.  Another option would be Brooklyn’s new basketball arena but it is not designed for hockey, although that is an easy retrofit.  The Brooklyn option assures the Islanders technically stay on Long Island but what sort of fan base could they muster being so dislocated from their old home.

Wang has consistently stated that if the Islanders don’t have a new home when their lease expires in 2015, he will move the team.  Unless Wang sells to Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov or some pro-Brooklyn group, I highly doubt Wang himself would move the Isles there.  If by some miracle the Flushing idea is resurrected, then Wang would move them there but that idea is dead, dead, dead.  Several Canadian cities are vying for a franchise.  No doubt these cities will court Mr. Wang in the next few months if the vote fails.

Does this bond pass? No. I’m betting it’s dismissed by voters.  In the event it does pass, NIFA will not approve the deal.  The county is essentially bankrupt and New York state officials will not allow more ‘reckless’ spending.  For thousands in Nassau County, ditching a hockey team with the NHL’s lowest attendance (a scant 11,000 per game) is a no-brainer.  Though Islanders management will point to the Coliseum as the main cause for their problems, others will argue that a better product would’ve led to the Coliseum’s replacement when the economy was booming.

The Isles have been abysmal, last sniffing a conference title twenty years ago.  An Islanders captain hasn’t lifted the Stanley Cup in nearly thirty seasons.  Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is part of the problem but is emblematic of a larger issue; the slow death of Long Island hockey fans.  If Islander fans were as loyal as they were decades ago, attendance figures wouldn’t be so dreadful and a new Coliseum would’ve been built years ago.  I fear no alternative exists to save the New York Islanders.  Even a win today could be a loss if turnout is exceptionally low as expected.  Canada smells blood in its southern waters and is poised to snatch the Isles out of the Atlantic.  Can Long Island snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?  Probably not.  A small miracle is needed to keep the Islanders on Long Island.  For me, vote Yes!  Save the Isles if you can.

When a Team Becomes a “Team”

It is a word thrown around in sports that tends to not have much meaning other than to indicate which franchise is your employer. It is a word that, by definition, only means that you are part of a larger group of athletes and share a common goal of winning. Until last night, the New York Islanders were a team. Today, they are a team. No longer are they a group of individuals who share a common crest on their jersey. Now they are a band of brothers, and will defend each other as if they were family.

The Islanders have not had much success on the ice the past few seasons and they are often called a “minor league team” by many opposing fans, teams, even the media. The battle for a new or upgraded arena has been a PR nightmare for this franchise and many start players would never sign a contract to go play on Long Island. Despite all of that, the Islanders have built a very young, and very talented group of players who are looking to launch their NHL careers. They play hard each night, but often fall short on the scoreboard as they lack the skill and toughness that most NHL teams would have. However, the night of February 11th, 2011 may have changed all of that.

The week before, in a game against the Penguins, the Islanders were treated like a doormat. They were out-scored (3-0) and the Pens knocked down (and out) some of the Islanders most talented players- guys who were known for their skills, not brawn. That game was a classic example of a big brother beating the daylights out of a little brother who could only run away and cry. Even Isles goaltender Rick DiPietro decided to get involved in the physical play, and one punch later, he is out for the season with a broken face. I could write a whole article about the stupidity of his actions, but I will save that for another day.

Last night I attended the Islanders game against the Penguins, fully expecting there to be some retaliation by the Islanders. What I witnessed was a group of 20 guys coming together as team, standing up for each other, and declaring that they will not tolerate any disrespect.

There were more brawls than I can count, close to 250 total penalty minutes, even a rookie skating the whole rink to take a punch at the Penguins goalie. The Islanders fought as one team, they played as one team, and they cared about each other as one team. A week after getting beaten on the scoreboard, physically and emotionally by this same Penguins team, the Isles stood together and had their revenge. At the end of the night, the Isles had dominated the scoreboard (9-3) and proved to everyone that whole there may be no “I” in “team”, there is an “Islanders”.

Deadweight DiPietro

In September 2006, Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro signed a 15-year deal valued at $67.5 million ($4.5M annually).  Since then, DiPietro has played sporadically, mostly because of an injured groin and his surgically-repaired left knee.  His contract, which was universally condemned as excessively long and risky, was an attempt by the Isles to bring stability to a key position lasting until the early 2020s.  That attempt has failed.  Two nights ago, Rick DiPietro showed why he should not be the Islanders netminder when he returns, or ever again.

On Wednesday, as the Islanders-Penguins game was drawing to a 3-0 Pittsburgh victory, Rick stepped out of the crease, close-lining Penguin Matt Cooke.  Typical in a losing effort, despite what Cooke had done to DiPietro previously with goalie interferences, DiPietro sunk to a low.  But after the hit, he instigated a fight with Pittsburgh’s goalie Brent Johnson.  What happened next is the epitome of Rick DiPietro’s time with the Islanders.  Brent Johnson laid him out with a single left hook to the face.  DiPietro’s facial fractures will sideline him four to six weeks.  Way to go Rick.

In the past three seasons, DiPietro has played in 34 games.  Had the Islanders signed him to a reasonable deal, one that was considerably shorter, he wouldn’t be the Islanders goalie today.  DiPietro’s contract is an albatross.  The Islanders are stuck with DiPietro’s contract unless he is willing to renegotiate.  My assumption is that he won’t.  Who would?  What has become clear is that the Islanders miscalculated, as any franchise will, if they are willing to sign athletes to ridiculously long contracts.

Islanders fans beware.  There are more than a few cities in Canada that want an NHL franchise.  The more deadweight the Islanders collect, all the more reason there will be to leave Long Island and head for icier pastures.  Of course, if they leave around 2015, they will still have to take DiPietro with them.  Their punishment will be another five or six seasons of Rick’s deadweight.

Poll of the Week

New Season, Different Outlook

In years past, the start of the hockey season meant only one thing for the New York Islanders: Which team will be our main competition for a lottery pick in the upcoming draft? Well those days are over, thanks to a roster filled with young and talented playmakers and the crafty veterans ready to teach these kids what it means to succeed in the NHL. Last season saw John Tavares begin to develop into the player the Isles expected when they drafted him #1 overall and Kyle Okposo become a solid 2-way player with lots of offensive upside. Add Comeau, Bailey, Schremp and of course, Moulson to that mix and you have a solid core of guys, all under 26 years old and only getting better.

The biggest question mark for the Isles will of course be the health of Rick DiPietro and whether or not he can handle the physical stress of an entire NHL season (or even 20 games). As the saying goes, you only can go as far as your goalie can carry you. Rolo played big in DP’s absence last year, and he will be called upon again this year to play big minutes. At 41 years old in October, he has the experience this team needs to be successful, so hopefully he has the legs the team needs as well.

After training camp, when the final rosters have been set, we will put together our season outlook for the Isles, Devils and Rangers and where these teams may stand come playoff time. For now, before the first puck has been dropped, the Islanders have something going for them that has been missing from Uniondale for a long, long time: A team worth watching.

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