Backchecking: A Very Real Truth Could Hurt – A History And An Observation

Barclays Center is likely the best hope for Charles Wang and Islander fans to keep the franchise in New York.

If my latest post about fan expectation/reaction about the New York Islanders off season pissed you off, then this one is sure to create more frustration. I warn you now — you may want to stop reading here.

The direct root cause of what GM Garth Snow can do in constructing his team, and what owner Charles Wang is willing to do to help his GM is linked directly to what is not happening among Nassau County or Town of Hempstead politicos, and what is not yet happening in Queens or Suffolk. Conversely, there is something tempting occurring in Brooklyn, but it is still very new, and very non-committal.

And when this is all said and done, the New York Islander fans remains frustrated, in a state of limbo, concern, and a general maddening state of being angry as hell. Fans are mad at their owner, the GM, the players themselves, the countless stream of empty suits and skirts and even at each other. It might not be what you want to hear, and it is not what I want to write, but its still the reality.

I mentioned at the end of my last piece that I would find some time to comment on the latest proposal by Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano about the development of the “Hub” property and that any proposal require either a new or a renovated Nassau Coliseum. The timing of Mangano’s announcement could not be better for me based on what I wrote the last time. And for those who don’t believe in Christmas in July, we got a “counter proposal” from Democratic Party boss Jay Jacobs.

So lets set up some details of the past and connecting it to the present. If I miss anything, or leave anything out, please feel free to add them to the comments section.

Laying the Blame
When Charles Wang came to the Islanders, he did so with open pockets. Many Islander fans like to leave this part of the history of CBW out. Anyone who does not accept the financial committment — I say again — stop reading now. After being run on a paltry $15 million total budget (give or take), Charles Wang came in and within a year had then GM Mike Milbury bring in high priced help in Alexi Yashin and Michael Peca. Between the two, Wang nearly doubled the payroll adding about $14 million to the payroll. He made some quick improvements to an aging arena, and tried to get the Islanders to the playoffs with his deeper pockets and a commitment to try to win “now.”

We can argue to death that he made a bad choice in keeping Mike Milbury around, or selecting to pay Yashin as much as he did for the term and later trading away Captain Michael Peca for Michael York. You wouldn’t get too much argument from me on keeping Milbury and/or the decision to make the kind of commitment to Yashin the Islanders made.

We can debate that he purchased the team to make a real estate transaction rather then build a hockey team. That has been an ire of many, and its understandable. But I think we can agree that he has the right to make money from his business — otherwise the business is no longer viable and should close, right? Isn’t that the way business works? Regardless of his motives, he made a huge financial commitment by doubling the team salary and an attempt to bring in better, more seasoned players. (Around this same time frame, Milbury had the ability to trade for and pay players like Roman Hamerlik, Adrian Aucoin, Chris Osgood, Garth Snow and a few others…none of which would have happened had it not been for ownership willing to spend)

At the end of the day, it was this lunatic that destroyed the Islanders — more than any owner, politician or one player.

In the end, the on ice failures were more Mike Milbury’s poor choices then anything else. Impatience with players and coaches alike helped to hurt the long term health of the team. It did not help that amazing horrid draft day decisions were also made. However, the financial commitment from ownership from 2000 to about 2008 was clearly evident. It may have been misguided and a bad idea to give Yashin a 10 year deal, or an as yet unproven DiPietro a 15 year deal. Everyone likes to call the Islanders a joke for those deals, but I see similar moves (right or wrong) made by the Flyers, Devils, Canucks, Penguins, Capitals and most recently the Wild. No one is calling them a “joke” yet the deals they have made are just as bad, if not worse.

Both deals by the Islanders and Charles Wang were bad moves. (I am pleased that contract length is on the table for the new CBA)

Buts its Been 20 years…
This is one of my favorite complaints from Islander fans, not because of its inaccuracy, but because it does not distribute the responsibility of futility properly.

Before Wang, the Islanders had been mired in a sea of pain. No playoffs. No viable players. Some promising youth, forced to the NHL to fill rolls on a losing team. Not the best way to start a career in pro hockey. But with very bad ownership, there was little choice. Mix in to that Spano-gate, and its just plain ugly. I raise this point because when I bitch about the Islanders long drought of a playoff series win, I find it hard to blame Garth Snow who was not in a position to change that from 1994 to 2006. During those 12 years he was either not an Islander, or he was a goalie on the team. Other GMs and owners were responsible for trying to build a winning team. And from 1994 to 2000, Charles Wang was not the owner. My point in detailing this — fans like to dump the entire 18 years of futility on this GM and this owner. That is not fair. You want to kill them for the last few seasons — go for it. But lets not make them walk the plank for things that Gluckstern and Milstein were responsible for.

We can be frustrated about the last several seasons. Last season in particular was a bit painful — perhaps more so then the others because I think many fans were expecting more. The rebuild has been very slow. Trades are non-existent for the most part and we can’t seem to find stable coaching since the days of Al Arbour. I expected the Islanders to be on the bubble of the playoffs last season. Perhaps they would miss but they would make it very close and keep it interesting to the end showing major signs of improvement. There were signs of improvement as well as set back.

I proudly add that the NY Islanders are NOT just John Tavares. He has a growing support structure in Travis Hamonic and Matt Moulson predominantly. He also has solid play beginning to emerge from the like of Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Michael Grabner and Frans Neilsen. More talent is on the way. This in not “pie-in-the-sky.” The Isles boast one of the best farm systems in the NHL — not because someone is drinking kool-aid, but countless independant sources are suggesting that the Islanders are fairly deep at very level. That may not translate to NHL wins, but based on what has worked for most franchise in the NHL, it all begins with the draft — a weakness that Garth Snow has turned into a strength.

Top Off Ice Priority
For nearly a decade, the top priority for the franchise has been a two pronged approach. Get out from under a franchise crushing lease agreement with SMG, and build a new building or significantly renovate the old one and obtain a new lease for the Islanders to call home. These off ice problems should be tasked in large part to ownership. Prior to Charles Wang’s arrival, neither was a seriously of being checked off the “to-do” list. As some fans put it, Charles Wang purchased the team for the real estate venture. This should have been his area of expertise. This is where Wang could make his mark on Long Island, and use his resources to allow the Islanders to become a model franchise and destination location.

If I have one issue with Charles Wang before all others, it is the fact that he failed — at least to date — to accomplish the one mission he should have had at the top of his list. The closest he could come is closer then any previous owner or County Executive has come to a viable long term proposal for the welfare of the Islander franchise, job creation, a destination location in Nassau and a revenue generator for the County as well as Hempstead township. What could there be not to like? It turns out that when it comes to Kate Murray and Hempstead and County Republicans — plenty! Much like the current turmoil in Washington D.C., where one party does not want to allow the other any credit for anything that can be considered measurable success, so to is Nassau County politics — a microcosm of the national political landscape.

When it was a Democratic led legislature and County Executive (Tom Suozzi), County Republicans and the seat of Republican power in Nassau – Hempsted Township — did everything they could to obstruct, obfuscate, demoralize, frustrate and flat our disgust Charles Wang. (Wang played the game very badly which did not help). In the process of non-committal nothingness, the Islander owner reached into his pocket to shell out another $15 million dollars on surveys, studies, and more studies. After some 5 years of silence on the issue, Kate Murray and the Hooples of Hempstead killed the project by suddenly deciding to create a whole new zoning code for the area — making Wang’s plan instantly obsolete and any chance for viable economic generating growth impossible.

No matter how you see the proposal by Wang, the large part of the blame for killing the Lighthouse project must fall squarely on County Republicans and Town of Hempstead clowns. It is important to note this because it demonstrates the core problem of the 2011 failed referendum, and why this new proposal by Mangano and Jacobs will also, more than likely fail.

Fast forward to 2010 and the election of Republican Ed Mangano as County Executive. With Wang’s darling in Suozzi gone, some thought that the hope for the Islanders remaining on Long Island was doomed. Perhaps that may yet prove to be the case. Afterall it was the Republicans who killed the Lighthouse. But, without little time in Mineola, Mangano reached out to Wang, and the ‘ol switcheroo was on. Suddenly, Republicans were all for the Islanders staying put — at least to the tune of $400 million taxpayer dollars. A once non-supportive Kate Murray even used the opportunity to sit at the dais after she had already daggered to death the Lighthouse (the nerve, quite frankly…) And true to form, Jay Jacobs and the County Democrats — now out of power, were quick to criticize the referendum, and played a key roll in scaring the taxpayers into voting against the measure. So the blame for killing the referendum must fall squarely on the Democrats — who 2 years prior were all for keeping the Islanders, and were now changing their tune.

Both concepts — the privately financed Lighthouse, and the public funded referendum had their merits and their faults. No one plan is going to satisfy every last person’s wishes. However through this all one thing is certain. Nassau County remains in a financial mess. No new construction jobs which either project could have provided. No new tax base, which either project could have provided. (We will put aside the NIFA part of the problem for the time being). Through the 5 years of Lighthouse debate and the failed referendum, the Islanders and people of Nassau and Long Island are left with little more then hot air and a lot more frustration. This is the saddest of all the truth there could be about this circumstance. It’s far more then just being about the Islanders.

Frustration
With Charles Wang getting nothing but a thinner wallet thanks to the foolishness of both Democrats and Republicans, he is not only frustrated, but he is looking, and sounding tired. Dee Karl at Hockey Buzz correctly pointed out that Charles is not a young man. He does not need this, and in fact has lost millions upon millions of dollars. Some fans and naysayers like to casually dismiss to dollars. I wonder if that dismissal would come as quickly if it was their money — especially if they were the owner and the fans were asking them to add $20 million (Suter/Parise deals) in salary and they did not care that your losses would go from $20 million to $40 million with the stroke of a pen. And its not just fans wanting players. It people like Jay Jacobs having the audacity to tell Charles Wang, you use your own cash to build a building, then pay us rent.

The greatest lesson I learned in my political life — having some empathy — allowed for me to put myself in the shoes of my ‘opponent.’ See things the way they may have seen things. I can see why the fans are upset and frustrated. I get it. Does anyone think that I wouldn’t want Zack Parise or Ryan Suter in Islander blue and orange? Do you think I wouldn’t love to see us take a run at another free agent to help round out the roster? Perhaps make that deal for Bobby Ryan. I can empathize with every Islander fan out there. Truly.

But rather then allowing myself to get frustrated and angry, I have tried to take a far different approach — and its the only approach I can take or I would be on the other side of these posts ranting about my team and why we didn’t get Suter or why we aren’t spending to the cap ceiling. That kind of things gets old — QUICK.

All of the off ice turmoil has an impact on what can and cannot be done. Charles Wang — bad decisions and all — is not made of money. The losses continue to mount and at some point, he will either simply go broke or he will sell the team. Lots of fans — including me — would welcome a new owner but we also must be cautious in that desire. A new owner could move the team, cut costs a la Millstein/Gluckstern. The grass is seldom greener on the other side of the fence. Be very careful.

An Arena Grows in Brooklyn
With Nassau County quickly falling out of favor, what is the alternative? Suffolk county is in as much of a financial mess as Nassau County and has made few if any inquiries to the Islanders. Queens has not made any commitment in real terms. There has been flowery language and talk of desire, but it stops well short of putting dollars on the table. Brooklyn is the only logical local solution. A new arena is almost completed, the desire by arena management and local politicos is evident. The location is close enough to allow existing fans of the franchise to maintain support, and the option is open to attract a new fan base as well.

Outside of Long Island, support for the addition of 2 more Canadian teams grows. A commitment for a new NHL ready arena exists in Quebec where the Nordiques used to play. There are strong rumors that Toronto area interests are hoping to bring in a second team perhaps in Hamilton. Seattle is looking to bring in a hockey club, and I have heard that Las Vegas would love a hockey team. We all know that Kansas City is desperate to be home to a new franchise as well.

Will Isles fans aside their differences with management? If they don't it will be planes and not trains that will ferry them to games.

The Million Dollar Question
Through the frustration you (and I) feel as a fan, all of the feelings you have about Charles Wang, Garth Snow, Kate Murray, and more… How far are you willing to go to save your hockey team? That really is the top question that should be upper most in any Islander fan’s mind. There is lots of talk from the “talking heads” at ESPN, NBC, TSN, NHL.com and other places about how the Islanders have such a passionate and knowledgable fanbase. We do thank you very much – but this time, it is a great deal more then talk. Talk is, after all, cheap. And right now, that is all Islander fans have been doing. And that right there is the reason I wrote my last article — and this one. Through all of this frustration, are you willing to travel to Brooklyn on October 2, 2012 to a very, very important pre-season game?

Charles Wang, Bruce Ratner and the NHL brain trust is going to be watching that pre-season game very closely. They want to see what kind of response there will be from the fans. They want to know if the Islanders were to move to Brooklyn, would there be a viable economic outlook for the franchise? Can Charles Wang, or ANY OWNER make it work in Brooklyn, or is it pointless to even try? The dollars must add up, and it has to be a deal that this, or any owner can make some money at. After decades of bleeding, the new deal for the Islanders at Brooklyn, or anywhere else has to be a potential for profit.

Quebec hockey fans traveled to Long Island for a game to voice their support. And if you think the NHL did not hear them, or Charles Wang did not see them, you are deluding yourself into a false sense of security.

I for one am putting my differences with Garth Snow, Charles Wang aside to make sure that we have a franchise to bitch about tomorrow.

Actions vs Words
And thus with Brooklyn calling, we have to see why actions will always trump words. While Nassau politicians continue to hurl bombs at each other, using Charles Wang and the Islanders for target practice, Brooklyn builds. Lets face it, the two competing plans proposed by Mangano and Jacobs, are largely — a joke. Both of them. The New York Islanders transcend politics for me — always have, always will. I believe in the pit of my gut that Mangano and Jacobs are both empty suits who care little about the people they claim to lead in government. Tom Suozzi is as much to blame as anyone else, caring more about a run for governor then the task at hand in Nassau, and we can’t forget the Town of Hempstead board led by the queen of no jobs, no economic growth, no viable tax base — Kate Murray. All of these people would hardly be qualified to wash my car. There is a reason they are desperate for the jobs they have now, living off the taxpayer. They are not qualified to do anything else.

The latest Mangano plan is the Charles Wang plan — otherwise known as The Lighthouse Project, except it is within the scope of the zoning code of the Town of Hempstead.  It is not the economic engine that the Lighthouse could have been. A new arena would be fine, but that only works if the Islanders, as the top tier tenant would have the ability to earn enough to be a self-sustaining business. As the Lighthouse, the Islanders by themselves could theoretically lose money, but combined within the greater development, and revenue stream, team ownership could make money and keep the entire entity vibrant. In the Mangano plan, Charles Wang would be a rent payer, and more then likely would see slim to no returns on parking, concessions, and more. The team would in essence be stuck with a similar deal — one that is a non-starter for the Islanders. Unless this were to dramatically change, the plan is DOA for CBW as it should be. All Mangano has done is turn the clock back to when the County asked for proposals on the site originally. Hello square #1.

The Jacobs plan is even more laughable. He is actually proposing that Charles Wang pay for nearly all of the development while the County pays for a small piece of the entity. Then the Islanders would likely pay rent again? Would they see the parking revenue? The concessions? The full ticket price? Or will the Jacobs plan take that money too? CBW has already lost upwards of $250 million not to mention the cost for buying the team to begin with, and now Jacobs is asking him to fork over another $320 million? This guy is an even bigger fool then Kate Murray and I honestly did not think that was possible. Does anyone still have to ask why this is not working in Nassau County?

It is painfully clear that there is not a single Democrat or Republican in Nassau County with the most basic understanding of elementary math. How these clowns are elected to be entrusted with the citizens of Nassau is a dangerous example of how easily half the people can be fooled, and how the other half just doesn’t give a shit.

My advise to Islander fans: don’t hold out hope of a Nassau revival. Don’t expect this team to be here much longer. That much seems painfully obvious. If you think the Islanders would “never move,” or there is no urgency that the franchise might be lost to another city, you should have conversations with fans from Atlanta, Quebec and Hartford. If you allow your differences with management decisions on free agency, how much Charles Wang spends on the team, or that Garth Snow didn’t make the trades you wanted, to prevent you from getting to Brooklyn to support your team, then it is a very real possibility that you will need to take a plane to watch your team play games rather then a train. Citizens of Quebec have sent the message LOUD AND CLEAR that they are ready and willing to see the Islanders move to their city. This is YOUR CHANCE to show the NHL, Nassau County and Islander management that you want the Islanders LOCAL!

My advice to County politicos: Go back and study 1st grade math. When you are done with that, find your brain, and your heart. Maybe you could actually put a little time into caring about the citizens. This is more then a hockey team. When the Islanders leave — and they will — you will lose millions of dollars in lost tax revenue, thousands more will be out of work, and you will have a 77 acre monument to abject failure on Hempstead Turnpike — which should be renamed the Kate Murray Memorial Coliseum for Epic Fail.

My advice to Charles Wang and the Islanders: The longer you stay in your self imposed silence, the more you alienate Islander fans, frustrate them, anger them and drive them away…  the more your enemies will fill the void with lies, distortion and speculation. The more you continue down this path, the less likely it will be for you to convince people to show up to games. The self-fulling cycle you are creating is bad business all around. Building through the draft is great and necessary, but this team MUST make the playoffs this season to become viable.

P.S.
In case you have not heard that Las Vegas is a possibility, I caught this in the morning: http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2012/jul/15/glance-las-vegas-arena-foundation/?

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About the Author: A graphic designer who loves the game....and knows that age has slowed him down — but the passion is there. Islanders fan since the 70s, Dad, Husband and Coach of the Flying Tiger's Email: andre@filamentdesigns.net Twitter: http://twitter.com/FilamentDesigns

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  1. NYI 19 says:

    Yes. If we want to keep the team in NY then go the game in Brooklyn in October. If you don’t care to have NYI anymore then don’t go.

  2. Whoa! This blog looks exactly like my old one! It’s on a entirely different topic but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Wonderful choice of colors!

  3. KO21 says:

    I get sick of people saying that Wang was an innovator by giving DP that ridiculous deal because other teams followed suit because they didn’t. for example, the Devils signing Kovy to 15 years is a heck of allot different than signing an unproven, 2nd year goalie, to 15 years. DP has NO TRACK RECORD. These other teams signed guys that are FRANCHISE PLAYERS. I’m not saying they were good moves because they probably weren’t. But to say that it was WANG WHO PAVED THE WAY IS SIMPLY AN OVER-STATEMENT TO SAY THE LEAST.

    • HyeDray says:

      I have made a point to not respond to those who make comments on my posts (though it is welcome and appreciated) but I think I need to clarify something in response to this comment.

      The DP contract is not what was “new” as a mega deal in the NHL It was really the Yashin deal. To that time, no contract had been for that length to my knowledge, and nothing even had come close to it in terms.

      Fans can debate the minutia of who to give a contract to, if it was worth it/not worth it. The point of this part of the piece is the point out some truths — including that Wang did in fact, and in many ways many ways pioneer the present day mega deal in the NHL with the consummation of Yashin deal.

      overall — that is NOT the point of this piece.

      The point of this piece — and really my previous piece is that Isles fans hatred of their owner and GM and the decisions they make will push fans to not support the team which will surely guarantee that the franchise is moved out of the area. Some feel that will not happen — ever. That the NHL will not let that happen (see Trashers, Atlanta and Whalers, Hartford).

      Everyone is entitled to believe what they wish and make the decisions they will make. Just so everyone is aware of the consequences — and THAT is the overall point I am raising.

  4. KO21 says:

    I think that allot of fans are pissed because Wang has placed the org on austerity because of his bad decisions. If it wasn’t for all his bad decisions maybe we wouldn’t be punished for them now. So we are being punished for wangs past mistakes. He wont spend more money than he has too because he wasted so much on his mistakes. That’s hardly fair to the org or the fans…Now I am glad that Garth is building the team the smart way.

    • HyeDray says:

      I think the lack of an arena deal beyond 2015 has a lot more to do with the austerity then anything else as far as salary goes. Clearly Snow had the ability to pay out some pretty significant dollars as it is well documented to players like Ryan Smyth, Paul Martin and Dan Hamhuis. That was all well reported over the 2007, 2009, 2010 summers. All of those players turned down more money to play for a different club. Keep that in mind.

      The fans are being “punished” to an extent. But I put more of that blame on Nassau County and Town of Hempstead politicians over the Charles Wang for this simple reason. Wang has spent on player salary in the past and has made fairly significant commitments to players like Tavares, Grabner and Okposo. He did not have to commit to the number of years on those offers. He could have given qualifiers to them all until they hit free agency.

      Just saying… my viewpoint is that the local politicos are the cancer here — much more so then the owner.

      The silver lining? as you said — it has forced Snow to build from within, and I am liking lots of what he has accomplished at the draft. Lets see if that can translate to on-ice success.

      • ChrisTriants says:

        Thank you for making the point that Wang has, in fact, spent money on this team. he’s not a cheap guy, but if he’s going to spend $60 million per year on a team that he might only be able to sell for $120 million, it’s his loss. For an owner, it’s a business first, and then the fans. Although we might have to deal with it as fans, it’s not our place to say how he runs his business. I wouldn’t pour money into a project that was uncertain. If Wang had the greenlight for an arena, I’m sure he would be spending, as he did with Yashin, Peca, DiPietro, and many other Islanders that were featured in his early years as the owner of the Islanders. He only really began to stop spending when it became clear that his vision, the Lighthouse Project, would not be accepted.

        They have done what they can with what they have to work with. I’m confident that the team will turn the corner, but it won’t be with any big time players (besides the homegrown ones) until Wang can guarantee a return for his investment.

        In regards to DiPietro, that first season he was playing up to his contract. He got injured, and was unfortunately not the same again. If he was playing like an All-Star goalie, as he was, $4.5 million was a bargain.

      • KO21 says:

        I fully understand how Wang has been undermined by the politicians and I am not a Wang hater/basher, usually, lol. I am educated on what went on with the LHP and I feel like he got screwed royally. I blame this situation where in on Wangs lack of political savy and the scum bag politicos themselves…So I appreciate that Wang really tried to do something good for the Isles and Long Island. Its just that you cant call out Isles fans for their frustration. There is many reasons to be

      • RobJ74 says:

        Wang did spend money in the past. But he isnt anymore. He admitted that he is on a strict budget now. This is all because he lost so much money and hes not going to spend any more than he has too unless he knows he can make money. So when he gets an arena I still dont think that guarantees that Wang will take the team of austerity. Not until he feels he can make a profit. Hes been saying all this time that a stand alone arena is not viable for him to make a profit.

        So I know that Wang has proven he will spend but that was before all the money he lost on the LHP. So Isles fans and the Isles or suffers because of Wangs mistakes…

  5. Jethro09 says:

    I for one won’t shed a tear when the Isles leave Nassau County, provided they stay in NY. Nassau County’s politicans have made it abundantly clear that 1) they are inept and incapable of competently running the county and 2) they could care less about the Islanders or the Hub for that matter. While some Nassau County residents care about the team, its politicans clearly do not. I’d rather have the team move to Brooklyn than stay another day in Nassau County after the lease expires.

    My biggest gripe with Wang (aside from the asinine decisions concering the on-ice product) is that he never had a back-up plan for the arena situation for the team if the Lighthouse failed, which it did. I do believe CW bought the team for the real estate possibilities. And I don’t care why he bought the team, provided he secures the team’s long term future, which he has failed to do. CW should have had a back-up option for the team in the event that the Lighthouse failed and he didn’t.

    The uncertain future of the team is the #1 reason why this team can’t attract top end talent. Nobody is going to sign a long term contract to play for a team that may be moving to another, unknown city in 2015. This is especially true for the UFA’s with families and the better ones, ones that have options. This team will not improve until it is able to secure its long-term future. Stability off the ice leads to stability on the ice.

  6. Jesse M says:

    I bought my preseason tickets the day they went on sale!!!!!! I do hope they come to Brooklyn
    It seems like they’re not wanted out on the island plus it’s a 20 minute train ride for me not the sitting on the southern state as if there was a full blown evacuation hoping to get there before the second period starts!!