There has been ample reason to trash the New York Islanders over the past two decades, but with owner Charles Wang’s latest attempt to get his team a suitable arena falling to the sword of tax-concerned voters, let’s also remember the importance of this franchise.
Yes, yes, all 30 NHL teams are special little snowflakes and no two are alike, but bear this in mind: The last team to win the Stanley Cup that no longer exists is the Montreal Maroons, who took the title way back in 1935. Since then, the names engraved have not changed. Sure, the Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes came into the league as different entities, but their greatest triumphs came in current locales.
While the highs on Long Island came way back in the four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983, an unbroken lineage can still be traced back to that time. Mike Bossy passed the torch to Pat LaFontaine; onto Ray Ferraro; onto Ziggy Palffy; onto Mariusz Czerkawski; onto Alexei Yashin; onto Rick DiPietro. Granted, a lot of these names will never appear on banners high above ice level (and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that one or two of their jerseys have been set ablaze by distraught fans), but it is still a chain to past success - one many teams cannot match.
The Islanders also make up half of one of the greatest rivalries in sports, alongside the New York Rangers. Though the stakes haven’t been as high in recent years, the intra-city battle has a venomous history and its own signature rituals (“Potvin Sucks!”). Having two teams in North America’s biggest media market (plus the Devils just across the state line) is a big business selling point for the NHL, even if the teams aren’t doing well.
But enough about history. I’m actually pretty intrigued with how the 2011-12 Islanders are filling out. Sure, there are issues such as goaltending and that pesky salary cap floor, but a team that always scraps for points will be getting back its No. 1 defenseman in Mark Streit and a burgeoning top-six forward in Kyle Okposo, neither of whom could contribute last season due to injury.
Add to that list Calder Trophy nominee Michael Grabner, young cornerstone John Tavares, back-to-back 30-goal scorer Matt Moulson and shorthanded demon Frans Nielsen. Now insert rookie Nino Niederreiter into the lineup and his potential Calder chops. Then toss in Brian Rolston’s experience.
We know the Islanders compete under coach Jack Capuano. Barring any catastrophic injuries, this is a team that can win some hockey games. Are they a playoff team? Maybe not, but they won’t be a doormat, either.
From the people I’ve interviewed lately regarding the arena situation, even those who ran the “No” side of the referendum that denied Wang his latest rink plan, all believe the team will stay in Nassau County.
Much like the Chicago Blackhawks five years ago, fans in New York have been bruised by a lot of gaffes in personnel. For the sake of expediency, I’ll just drop the name Mike Milbury and move on. Wang shares the blame as well. But the man clearly loves the Islanders and Long Island. It would have been pretty easy to make the case his team would be better off in Quebec or even Kansas City (at least they have a new rink there), but Wang has maintained allegiance to his lease and his people.
And for the sake of hockey history and a fan base looking for light at the end of the Bridge and Tunnel, I hope it all works out.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.