New York Islanders: 4 Main Reasons the Franchise Is Consistently a Loser
Four lonely playoff appearances in 15 years. Not one series victory in a decade and a half. The New York Islanders have almost done nothing but lose lately, and their plight is turning off even their most dedicated fans.
Attendance is down at the aging Nassau Coliseum, and the resulting lack of income has forced the team to steer clear of big-money free agents who would improve the on-ice product. Additionally, threats of relocation to Kansas City or elsewhere have left many doubting where the team will even play once their lease on Long Island expires in 2015. All of these factors have left a very dreary feeling in what was once a thriving hockey market.
Thankfully for Isles fans, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. A young core featuring John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and others have given fans hope that the team can soon be contenders in a difficult Eastern Conference.
Even better, the franchise is closer to securing a new arena, and they might have one by Aug. 1. At least this year, however, the Islanders are looking at another long season. Here I look at the four main reasons this franchise has been a loser for the past 15 years.
1. Charles Wang
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When Charles Wang bought the Islanders in 2000, it looked as if he would be the man to lead the Islanders into a new era. He gave general manager Mike Milbury plenty of money to spend, and he announced plans for a new arena. However, things did not go as planned.
Milbury (I'll get to him in a minute) made a series of terrible moves, and the Lighthouse Project, which was Wang's bold plan to save the franchise, has failed to gain any traction. Wang has subsequently lost millions of dollars, and has said that he regrets buying the team.
Wang's failure to secure a new arena has steered free agents away from the Islanders. Just recently, the team acquired defenseman Christian Erhoff from the Canucks, but Erhoff refused to even consider signing with the Islanders. The failure to land a marquee free agent has hindered the franchise's ability to rebuild and put out a competitive team on the ice.
Another area where Wang has failed is with his coaching and managing hires. He inherited the awful Milbury, but held onto him way too long. Once Milbury finally stepped down, Wang brought in Neil Smith then let him go a month later because Smith because of "philosophical differences."
Wang replaced Smith with Garth Snow, who at the time was the backup goaltender but retired to become the GM, even though he had zero management experience. Snow, to his credit, did well enough that he earned Executive of the Year honors after the 2006-07 season. However, Snow will never be able to live down the ghastly 15-year contract he gave Rick DiPietro (more on that later).
No matter what has plagued the Islanders in recent years, it all comes back to Charles Wang. Wang can redeem himself by finally securing the long-awaited new arena on August 1, but his tenure will likely always be remembered disdainfully by Islanders fans.
2. Mike Milbury's Awful Tenure as GM
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Let me start by saying that I have nothing personal against Mike Milbury: He knows a lot about hockey and is an excellent commentator for NBC. That being said, his tenure as the general manager of the Islanders was nothing short of disastrous. His worst move was the Alexei Yashin trade, who he acquired for Zdeno Chara and the second overall pick (Jason Spezza).
If trading away two future all-stars weren't enough, Milbury proceeded to sign Yashin to a monstrous 10-year, $87.5 million contract. It was so bad the Islanders are still paying Yashin $2.2 million per year for the next for years just to stay away.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of the questionable decisions "Mad Mike" made as GM. He also traded away Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen to the Panthers for two players I will politely describe as "scrubs." Yet another costly move was trading solid players Bryan McCabe, Todd Bertuzzi and Jarkko Ruutu to the Vancouver Canucks for Trevor Linden. It is certainly surprising that such smart people like Milbury and other GMs consistently make terrible moves and repeat their own mistakes (hello, Glen Sather).
Just recently news broke about the Islanders that seems oddly symbolic about how the past 10 to 15 years have gone for the franchise. It has been reported that the team is interested in reacquiring Alexei Yashin from the KHL. Yes, the same Yashin who they have been paying over $2 million a year to stay away. And people still wonder why this team is so much farther off than most of the other franchises.
3. Rick DiPietro's Ailing Body
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It is hard to criticize Rick DiPietro, considering his bad luck with injuries and the burden his 15-year, $67.5 -million contract has placed on him, but he has set the Islanders back quite some way. His drafting by the Isles forced them to trade away Roberto Luongo in 2000.
The Islanders haven't found the answer between the pipes ever since. Still today the Islanders' brass hopes DiPietro can develop into the star goaltender he was meant to be, but the chances of that happening are between slim and none.
DiPietro has dealt with a wide array of injuries over his career. Concussion, hip and knee problems have caused him to miss as many games as he has played. Last year, when he finally looked healthy again, he engaged in a goalie fight with the Penguins' Brent Johnson, whose punch to DiPietro's face gave the Isles' goalie a facial fracture and derailed yet another season for the beleaguered net-minder.
DiPietro will haunt the Islanders for quite some time as he is virtually untradeable and ownership cannot afford to bury his contract in the minor leagues. Isles fans can only hold on to the slim hope that DiPietro can finally become a consistent No. 1 goaltender.
4. The Other Teams in the Atlantic Division
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One thing the Islanders have no control over is the quality of the opponents in their division. The Penguins, Flyers, Rangers and Devils have all enjoyed much more success than the Islanders over the past 15 years. Additionally, the Pens, Flyers and Rangers all look better set to win in the near and distant future.
This does not mean the Islanders have no chance of contending in the next five years. They did make the playoffs in 2007 despite finishing fourth in the Atlantic Division. Also, the team has a young core and plenty of cap room to make itself a contender and challenge the top teams in the East.
For now, however, a lot depends on how the voting for a new arena goes on Aug. 1. If Wang can finally secure a lease, the Islanders can finally attract big free agents and improve the on-ice product dramatically. If they don't get the lease, then we might not see hockey on Long Island in five years, which would be tragic for the area and for the NHL as a whole.