New York Islanders

Charles Wang Potentially Selling the New York Islanders Should Make Fans Smile

UNIONDALE, NY - AUGUST 01: Owner Charles Wang of the New York Islanders addresses the media to announce that the new arena voter referendum failed on August 1, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. Wang has said that without a new arena, he may have no choice but to move the team out of Nassau County.  (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images)
Andy Marlin/Getty Images
Dave LozoNHL National Lead WriterMarch 28, 2014

As if sensing something wonderful had happened while they slept, New York Islanders fans across the world (well, Long Island) suddenly awoke Friday morning with a sense of joy, a sense of hope. They hadn't felt this way in more than a decade, so where were these almost forgotten emotions of positivity coming from?

Then they checked Twitter from overnight and saw a tweet from TSN's Bob McKenzie that likely caused tears of joy on par with the birth of a first child or hitting your Final Four in your NCAA tournament bracket (hey, joy is all relative):

NYI owner Charles Wang in talks to sell majority stake in NHL franchise. Nothing done yet, no telling if it gets done, but talks underway.

— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) March 28, 2014

That's right, folks: New York Islanders owner Charles Wang is looking to sell the team after buying it before the 2000-01 season along with partner Sanjay Kumar, who went to prison for securities fraud in 2007 after selling his stake to Wang in 2004. It's very likely the first step in a process that will bring one of the saddest comedic reigns of sports ownership in the modern sports world to an end.

The report was later confirmed by Chris Botta of Sports Business Journal.

SBJ: NHL source confirms Bob Mc's Isles sale talks tweet. But source says: 1. Deal far from complete 2. Wang furious over news leak

— Chris Botta (@ChrisBottaNHL) March 28, 2014

So if you see anybody in an Islanders jersey skipping through the streets of New York today, re-enacting the moves of Gene Kelly from Singing in the Rain, do not be alarmed and do not approach. They are not a threat to themselves or anyone else; they are experiencing a rare dose of concentrated happiness and should be allowed to dance until it wears off.

The time line of Wang's moves and decisions since the 2000-01 season are as comical as they are sad, as hilarious as they are depressing. It all depends on your perspective, really, but it's hard to imagine new ownership rivaling the follies of Wang, whose motivations for buying the team in the first place should be questioned.

UNIONDALE, NY - OCTOBER 08: Fans gather outside Nassau Coliseum in preparation for the New York Islander 2011 opening home game on October 8, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The original purchase of the Islanders included the sale of 77 acres of land around Nassau Coliseum. Wang seemed to be less interested in the prospect of owning and running an NHL franchise and more excited about his Lighthouse Project, a plan to refurbish the arena and build a hotel, practice facility and other properties on the surrounding land. Hempstead politicians resisted, forcing Wang to attempt to acquire public funds to finance the project.

It was voted down in 2011, and the Lighthouse Project never got off the ground.

It was during that time in 2009 when Wang told Newsday he regretted buying the team, saying he was unaware of how difficult running the Islanders would be.

"If I had the chance I wouldn't do it again," Wang told Newsday.

The feeling from Islanders fans is most likely mutual.

Sure, Wang gets credit for "saving" the Islanders for purchasing them in 2000 in the wake of the John Spano fiasco, but based on the way he ran the team and pursued the Lighthouse Project, he may have had more interest in the land around Nassau Coliseum than the team playing in it.

9 Jan 1999:  Zdeno Chara #3 of the New York Islanders in action during the game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Molson Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Canadiens defeated the Islanders 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Robert Laberge  /Allsport
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Success with drafting, signing and trading for players is guaranteed to no one, but under Wang, the Islanders made some of the more boneheaded moves of the past 14 years.

It doesn't get much worse than the move the Islanders made at the 2001 draft, orchestrated by Wang and executed by general manager Mike Milbury. The Islanders dealt defenseman Zdeno Chara and the second pick in the draft (which turned out to be Jason Spezza, the top-rated North American skater in that year's draft) to the Ottawa Senators for 28-year-old Alexei Yashin.

Thirteen years later, Chara is the best defenseman in the NHL and Spezza has 240 goals and 680 points in 678 career games.

Milbury gave Yashin a 10-year, $87.5 million contract that the Islanders are still paying out today. Wang bought out the final four years of the contract after five mostly disappointing seasons. According to CapGeek, Yashin will receive a final installment of $2.204 million next season to complete the transaction.

Technically, that makes Yashin the eighth-highest-paid player connected to the Islanders for 2014-15.

Wang also bankrolled the Rick DiPietro contract, a 15-year, $67.5 million deal given out by new general manager Garth Snow, who was the team's backup goaltender the previous season and offered zero management experience. Snow was hired after general manager Neil Smith parted ways with the organization after 40 days on the job, citing philosophical differences with Wang.

UNIONDALE, NY - SEPTEMBER 12:  Team owner Charles Wang (L) with goaltender Rick DiPietro (R) after DiPietro signed a 15 year contract with the New York Islanders on September 12, 2006 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Get
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The injuries that derailed DiPietro's career in the years that followed are well documented, and they led to the Islanders buying out that contract before this season.

DiPietro will receive $1.5 million per season through 2028-29. At $1.5 million per season, he earns more than all but one defenseman on the Islanders' current roster.

In related news, the Islanders have been hemorrhaging money since Wang took over.

According to that same Newsday report from 2009, Wang spent $208 million—about $23 million per season—to keep the team afloat. The NHL backed that number, but according to Forbes in 2013, the Islanders have only lost about $8 million per season since 2005.

Creative bookkeeping aside, the losses have resulted in Wang tightening the purse strings on the roster. Since 2008-09, the Islanders have had the lowest payroll in the league four times and have been far more preoccupied with reaching the salary-cap floor than with putting a competitive team on the ice.

Trading for the contract of retired goaltender Tim Thomas in 2013 was the ultimate indignation for Islanders fans, as the team needed his $5 million cap hit to stay above the floor and compliant with league rules.

Whether it's been poor decisions, bad luck or loss of funds as a result of unexpected resistance from local politicians, the Islanders have been one of the NHL's least competitive teams since Wang became owner in 2000.

Here are some of those comedic/tragic numbers since Wang took over, courtesy of ESPN stats person Vin Masi.

Since Charles Wang bought NYI Worst Pts Pct Since '00-01 Blue Jackets .459 Panthers .469 Jets .478 Islanders .481

— Vin Masi (@VinMasi) March 28, 2014

The Islanders have not won a playoff series under Wang and have missed the postseason in six of the past seven years. In the past six seasons that lasted 82 games, the Islanders have not cracked the 80-point barrier.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 21:  (l-r) John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders, Bruce Ratner, Charles Wang and Patrik Elias #26 of the New Jersey Devils take the ceremonial faceoff before a preseason game at the Barclays Center on September 21, 2013 in Br
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

There was little reason to be hopeful about the future of the Islanders, even with the team moving to Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the 2015-16 season. But with a potential new owner on the horizon who would, in theory, be willing to infuse the roster with more money, there's at least a chance things can turn around for the Islanders.

The roster is headlined by John Tavares, one of the NHL's top forwards and a Hart Trophy finalist in 2013. Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner are signed to inexpensive bargain contracts through the 2015-16 season. Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome are first-round picks who still could have a bright future.

The Islanders need a goaltender as badly as they need to abolish those black third jerseys, but they're not that far off from at least being playoff contenders.

This isn't the first time Islanders fans have heard that song, but if a new owner is writing the lyrics this offseason, there are plenty of reasons to don your fish sticks jerseys and feel good about your hockey team, at least for a little while.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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