When the New York Islanders’ announced Wednesday they would be moving from Nassau to Brooklyn in 2015, there was an overriding sense of melancholy among their long-suffering fan base. On the one hand, people were reassured to know the organization’s name and logo wouldn’t change when their Nassau Coliseum lease ends and they shift operations to the new Barclays Center. However, they’re still leaving the only community the franchise has known since their inception in 1972. You can’t pull up roots without disturbing the earth to some degree.
However, let’s face it – the Islanders could’ve stayed where they are in a taxpayer-funded new arena or moved to a premium parcel of land in St. Tropez and it still wouldn’t be able to scrape off the caked-on sludge that’s accumulated after decades of mismanagement. Fixing that organizational problem is the one and only way this much-maligned team will ever find the road back to on-and-off-ice success.
Of course, it can’t hurt that Barclays isn’t the crumbling, decrepit Nassau Mausoleum and carries some cultural cachet thanks to its association with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and their minority owner, rap icon Jay-Z. Barclays does have the structural drawback of a 14,500-seat capacity for hockey games (a number league commissioner Gary Bettman said could be increased to 15,000), which would make it the NHL’s smallest building. But that might prove to be a supply and demand benefit to Isles owner Charles Wang if his hockey operations team can turn around their consistently dismal showing in the standings.
Again, that’s the key to any Islanders revitalization. When you’ve made the playoffs just once since the 2004-05 lockout and just three out of the 10 seasons prior to that, you’d have to make each of your team’s fans minority owners in any arena to coerce them to turn out night after night. Wang has given GM Garth Snow a more-than-generous amount of time (Snow is now entering his seventh year in the role) to build a competitive roster. There are a number of great young players (including center John Tavares, left winger Matt Moulson and prospects Calvin De Haan and Nino Niederreiter). Unfortunately, and in part because of their less-than-impressive current arena, they’ve been unable to attract the type of veteran, top-shelf free agent to push their group into the realm of bona fide playoff contenders.
A new arena can only help in that regard, but it is far from a panacea. Columbus has the beautiful Nationwide Arena, yet because their win/loss record has been as sub-par as Wang’s team, that franchise also has struggled at the ticket window and when it comes to luring elite talent. Winning four consecutive Stanley Cups is what built an aura of greatness around the Islanders and although it’s unlikely they or any other team can establish a dynasty in the salary-capped NHL, winning is the only guaranteed cure-all for them now.
There are other factors at play that should give Isles fans hope. The NHL’s current collective bargaining negotiations are likely to end with a limit of contract length, which will prevent Wang from handing out decade-plus deals that have helped cripple their competitiveness since he bought the team 12 years ago. And they’re still in a New York market that affords generous amounts of spotlight to teams that are deserving.
But that’s the key: deserving. You don’t deserve customer support if you present them a product finely wrapped, but poorly constructed. You don’t win hearts and minds and boost your brand’s value by being first at sales pitches, but last at delivering as advertised.
Regardless of their good news and glitzy destination, the Isles don’t deserve any real laurels yet. Hope, change and moving forward are all attractive concepts for any faded franchise, but without the product on the ice following through on them, they’re as empty as Nassau Coliseum most nights.
Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His Power Rankings appear Mondays during the regular season, his column appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature Fridays.
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