A ray of hope for Islanders

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and New York Islanders owner Charles Wang announce a voter referendum that would allow the county to borrow up to $400 million for a new arena for the hockey team. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (May 10. 2011)

The Islanders are making news today. For the first time in what feels like forever, there is no punch line coming.

The news conference that will bring Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, Islanders owner Charles Wang and a host of other business leaders, Isles staffers and players and anyone else who feels like coming by the Coliseum will bring good news.

It's not great news yet -- that's up to the voters in Nassau and whether they want to foot the bill for a new arena, a minor-league baseball stadium and whatever else Mangano has in mind.

But it's hope, and that has been in short supply for the Islanders, for their fans and for the NHL in recent years. Wang's dreams for a Lighthouse Project, fans' dreams for a team that has a future and the league's dreams for a once-mighty franchise to again be relevant all seemed just that: a dream, or a memory of what once was.

There were a lot of four-figure attendance nights this season. Despite the promise of a group of good, hardworking young players, there was a 1-17-3 nosedive that caused a coaching change, and there were too many injuries to count. There was Evgeni Nabokov, claimed on waivers, hanging up the phone on Garth Snow and wondering aloud why a bottom-rung team would bother trying to pick him up.

There is another top-five pick, the fourth straight year of that, coming in next month's draft.

But Wednesday can start to change all that. The promise of a new arena in five years -- a long, long time in the sports world -- can make Snow's pitches to big-name free agents feel more substantial in July. Young stars like John Tavares can put down roots on Long Island and never be asked again whether he's just playing out his restricted free-agency time before he can bolt to a more stable franchise.

A new arena doesn't change everything. There are still five more years in the Coliseum; perhaps more to the hockey point, there are 10 more years on Rick DiPietro's contract. Wednesday's news doesn't erase all the missteps of the past two decades without a single playoff series win, or the past six seasons with just five playoff games.

And Wednesday begins a new era of no more excuses for Snow and his operation. Teams do lose out on free agents and have injuries pile up, but the expectations of success will be greater now that the Islanders aren't just biding their time until Kansas City or Quebec or Queens comes calling.

This is Long Island's team once again, for now and for the future, pending the Aug. 1 vote. So the fans will have an even greater stake in seeing this team grow and get better instead of the setbacks that this past season brought.

For the NHL, this is a huge day. The Phoenix Coyotes have been for sale or on the brink of blowing out of Glendale for two years, a saga that still has no end. The Atlanta Thrashers want to move north to Canada. The Dallas Stars need to be sold. The New Jersey Devils' owner is looking for a stakeholder. Things are not so great for Gary Bettman as the league moves toward yet another labor negotiation next summer, with Don Fehr on the other side.

But Bettman, Wang and Mangano -- and countless Islanders fans -- have got what they wanted, at least in principle.

The Islanders are making news Wednesday. No joke.

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