New York Islanders: What Could Have Been?

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New York Islanders: What Could Have Been?
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

These days, it seems that to be great, you have to be awful first.

If you look at some of the NHL's best young rising teams, those same teams might have been the worst in the league not too long ago.

The Pittsburgh Penguins come to mind, as do the Chicago Blackhawks; and don't forget the Washington Capitals. These teams feature the likes of some of the game's best young players, namely: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Jonathan Toews, etc. The list goes on and on.

In a not-so-distant past, however, the best players on these teams were an aging Mario Lemieux, a grumpy and unmotivated Jaromir Jagr, and Tuomo Ruutu? That's right. Your suddenly second-favorite NHL team was once the laughingstock of the NHL in every facet possible. Shoddy attendance? Check. Uninterested fan base? You bet.

Sounds a bit like the New York Islanders' current situation doesn't it?

You could also throw in a wacky owner who obviously has no clue how to run his NHL franchise, although he is quite adept at running it into the ground. That is just one of the problems that ails the Isles.

The sad part about all of this is that it wouldn't even matter had a few gargantuan mistakes not been made in the past.

The man truly responsible for the sorry state of the Islanders is not Charles Wang, but Mike Milbury.

He once traded Jason Spezza and Zdeno Chara for Alexei Yashin. Chara has become one of the best defensemen in the NHL and the heart and soul of the Boston Bruins, while Jason Spezza has been piling on the points in Ottawa and was part of one of the most dominant lines that hockey had ever seen, which included Dany Heatley (who Milbury passed over and decided to draft Rick "if-it's-a-Tuesday-I-must-be-injured" DiPietro) and Daniel Alfredsson.

Meanwhile, Yashin toiled a few seasons in Long Island before being bought out by the club. He is now playing in the KHL.

And that's not all.

Milbury also traded Olli Jokinen and Roberto Luongo on draft day in 2000 for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha. He then proceeded to draft DiPietro first overall in a draft class that included the likes of Marian Gaborik and Dany Heatley.

I could go on all day about how Milbury ruined the franchise, but that's not what I am trying to get at.

Had the Islanders kept these prospects, imagine the possibilities. If not for the blunders of Mike Milbury, the New York Islanders would be one of the best teams in the NHL. Guaranteed. They had all the pieces to become legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

True, these players were not nearly as good as they are no, and the Yashin trade might have looked good at the time, but any decent NHL general manager knows that you don't throw away prospects left and right.

And where are the Islanders now?

At the bottom of the standings in a few categories: points (30th), attendance (30th), offense (29th), defense (28th).

Imagine this team with players such as Jason Spezza, Zdeno Chara, Roberto Luongo, Dany Heatley, and Olli Jokinen.

Although the future is slowly getting brighter for the once mighty franchise, there are many dark days ahead. Greatness was certainly within their grasp, but poor management robbed them of what could have been...the Stanley Cup.

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