Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Future of the New York Islanders: A Look Back at a Decade of Futility

[Editor's Note: With the Phoenix Coyotes filing for bankruptcy on Tuesday, the next few months will likely be open season on the financially inept cellar-dwellars of the NHL. There have already been rumors of numerous teams relocating to Canada, and the New York Islanders may not be far behind. SportsJudge NHL Insider Darren Coslov takes a look at how the Islanders got in this position in the first place.]

As we approach the conference finals in the National Hockey League, the Bell Centre in Montreal is beginning preparations for the upcoming June Entry Draft. Team scouting departments are putting the finishing touches on what they believe to be their lists of ideal prospects for all 30 franchises. The New York Islanders have a bit more at stake as they work to decide who to take with the 1st overall pick in the draft. Yes that’s right, the Islanders won the rights to draft either Swedish Defensemen Jonathan Hedstrom, or London Knights superstar, John Tavares in the top spot.

The New York Islanders won the draft lottery hands down as matter of fact. Another poor performance off the ice in the summer of 2008 led to another dismal 82 games on Long Island. Their ownership group led by Charles Wang, co-founder of Computer Associates International, has been searching for nine years now on how to properly manage an NHL Franchise. It hasn’t happened yet and unfortunately I don't think it will happen anytime soon.

From the year 2000 until present, it has been a revolving door of coaches, players, and even general managers. But unlike the somewhat successful free-wheeling Rangers, there has never been a right coach. There has never been a right player. There is no depth on the island and certainly no direction.

Of the promising players who have come through Long Island, most have enjoyed successful careers elsewhere. Roberto Luongo is a Canuck and Zdeno Chara is a Bruin. In fact, looking back at how those players found their way to their current home is even more depressing.

To NYI: Trevor Linden
To Van: Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe, Pick (Jarkko Rutuu)

To NYI: Alexei Yashin
To Ott: Zdeno Chara, Bill Muckalt, Pick (Jason Spezza)

To NYI: Oleg Kvasha, Mark Parrish
To Florida: Roberto Luongo, Olli Jokinen

To NYI: Roman Hamrlik
To Edm: Eric Brewer, Josh Green, Pick (?)

To NYI: Olli Jokinen, Josh Green, Mathieu Biron, Pick (Taylor Pyatt)
To LA: Zigmund Palffy, Bryan Smolinski, Marcel Cousineau

To NYI: Janne Niinimaa, 2nd round pick
To Edm: Brad Isbister, Raffi Torres

Can you imagine the Islanders with a starting six that included Roberto Luongo, Jason Spezza, Olli Jokinen, Todd Bertuzzi, Zdeno Chara, and Brian McCabe? Not only did GM Mike Milbury approve of the horrendous shipment of talent to Ottawa, but he followed that up by signing Alexei Yashin to a $99 million contract only to to then buy him out four years before the contract expired. Years later, Garth Snow made an attempt to top Milbury by signing Rick DiPietro to a $115 million dollar contract. DiPietro has struggled with knee and hip injuries throughout his first few years of the contract.

Moves by Mike Milbury all but destroyed the Islanders, but former-goaltender Garth Snow is only making things worse. He traded away the rights to land punishing defensemen Luke Schenn in last years draft, only to grab a questionable offensive threat in Josh Bailey. Bailey joins a growing list of maybes on the Island, while Luke Schenn moves towards becoming one of the most dominant forces on the blueline in the NHL. No matter how you slice or dice it though, the decision making will always start at the very top and end at the very top of the Island: owner and puppeteer Charles Wang.

In a recent Newsday interview, Wang announced his regret on the decision to purchase the organization nine years ago. If he had the chance to do it again, he wouldn’t.
"According to the team's annual audited financial reports that were viewed by a Newsday reporter last month, Wang has spent $208.8 million - an average of $23 million per year - to keep the NHL franchise operating since his purchase. That's after spending $74.2 million to buy the team and assuming $97 million in existing liabilities."
Nine years of failure and lost revenue. Oh what have you done for me Mr. Wang? Only a question an Islanders faithful could ask.

[Be sure to check out "Draft Day", Part 2 of SportsJudge's look at the Future of the New York Islanders.]

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Thomas R. said...


I compeltely agree with your assessment but was actually shocked at how well the Islanders played down the stretch. I guess others like Atlanta were also playing the role of spoiler and playing with nothing to lose can work out, but what are your thoughts on their current talent level moving forward?

Also, I don't see any way the Islanders get a new arena in that already oversaturated market...what do you think?

Darren Coslov said...


You hit the nail on the head in terms of playing the role of spoiler. The Islanders were certainly productive down the stretch thanks to a handful of prospects arriving on the Island.

With the Injuries to Doug Weight and the trade that sent Bill Guerin to the Pittsburgh Penguins, without a doubt the Islander scouts were on hand to evaluate the likes of Jesse Joensuu and several other prospects and to determine before June, what exactly they needed. It's not a matter of what they need, it's a matter of being able to fill those needs. Let's not kid ourselves here, Garth Snow needs just about anything he can get his hands on.

In terms of Talent moving forward, Kyle Okoposo, Blake Comeau, Josh Bailey and Frans Neilsen are Head Coach Scott Gordon's top forwards. As of right now, only Kyle Okoposo stands out as a potential Top forward in the league. If Mark Streit was a forward, he is your number one guy. That to me is a problem, not taking anything away from a phenomenal PP Specialist.

I was on hand for a game at Mellon Arena earlier on this season. The Pittsburgh Penguins were just shy of 10 goals. 10 minutes to go in the game, I was trying to keep track of how much the Tim Jackman's, Mitch Fritz's and Nate Thompson's were playing. At first you figure they are out there to send a message. Then you realize they are out there because all 3 players are relied on to play regular minutes. Once again, that to me is a problem.

Garth Snow and Charles Wang need to figure out which way they are headed prior to their 1st selection overall in June. Charles Wang has had 9 years to do just that. Hasn't happened yet, but there is always that chance.

A new Arena simply is not in play until Charles Wang figure's out exactly what he needs to do. Will he stay or will he go? That's another whole issue. Charles Wang regrets purchasing the team. Who's to say he has any interest at all in keeping this franchise long term?

It's a mess my friend. One thing Islander fans can look forward to is the #1 overall pick. From there, it's up to Charles.

Thomas R. said...

Wow. Great, insightful response. As an Islanders "fan", I often found myself comparing our 3rd liners to that of nearby teams like New Jersey who were playing Brendan Shanahan in similar situations.

Now that you mention it, I could really see Wang selling the team and cutting his losses but on the other hand, with his arrogance (if that's the right word), it makes it seem like that would be admitting failure.

For so long I always blamed Milbury but now I realize all along Wang is the common denominator.

Mike Colligan said...

Mark Streit was really really impressive this season I thought. To finish +6 when 30 of his points came on the powerplay, and on the worst team in the league, is Norris trophy worthy in a perfect world.

I thought the Islanders really overpaid for him when they brought him in from Montreal but I was definitely wrong. If only they could hit the jackpot with a few more free agents, they could have a decent team. I think I agree with you guys though...not sure when/if that will ever happen with Wang at the helm.

NYIsles1/IslesTigers said...

This is just a very poorly done article that does not mention four playoffs in six years and is just outright wrong on the money give to not only Yashin but DiPietro.

You also forget to mention how many different teams Chara, Bertuzzi, Luongo have played for and will continue to play for.

How do you know right now Schenn will absolutely be better than Bailey? That's an unfair reach on your part that reflects you seem to only judge the Islanders by events close to a decade old.

Seems Wang for you cannot win either, he does not nothing and he's only interested in property he spends money and he's running the gm and the decisions?

Are you in the room with Wang and know he is telling Snow what to do?

Bottom line a lot of teams in this league have done far worse than four playoffs in five years that Wang's Islanders made before 1000 man games over two years put the franchise back.

NYIsles1/IslesTigers said...

" From the year 2000 until present, it has been a revolving door of coaches, players, and even general managers."

So one general manager is a revolving door and the Rangers who spent double the Islanders to miss the playoffs half those years are now somewhat successful?

Bergenheim scored fifteen goals last year, Okposo eighteen, Nielsen finally made the big team and looked good healthy and Comeau looks like a keep and Gervais had a very good second half. Joensuu also looked good and Figren is a second rounder who could make the club.

Seems like a lot of direction and far more depth than you want to acknowledge.

There are about ten teams that have done far worse than Wang's Islanders the last decade that have been out of playoff contention every single year.

Funny I don't see these articles about the Kings, Panthers, Rangers, Jackets, Coyotes, Blues, Hawks who finally improved or the Bruins, Caps who struggled for years or the Pens who were a tenth place team earlier this year who fired their coach and as far out of a playoff spot come the trade deadline as the Isles were last year.

You don't have to like the New York Islanders but how about a fair article that tells the entire story. Not some review of events a decade ago of players who have a combined zero Stanley Cups who have played on multiple teams.