New Islanders owners must get down to the hockey business
Mark HerrmannMark Herrmann
Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988,
The popular response yesterday was somewhere between "Yippeeee!" and "Here we go again." Islanders fans were ecstatic to hear that finally there was hope because the team will change hands. They are also realistic enough to know they felt exactly the same way when Charles Wang bought the team 14 years ago.
On these very pages back then, one fan was quoted as saying, "What does this mean? Hope." Another said, "Things can only get better."
We all should be wary, but for the life of us, people here can't help feeling that way again. Yes, yes, we remember the "Gang of Four" and "the Millstones" and the incomparable John Spano. Wang was supposed to make us forget all of them. Sometimes, he made us wish we had them back.
Fact is, it just has not worked out. It has not worked out for Wang, what with reported losses of $20 million a year. And it sure has not worked out for the team, with its embarrassing streak of not having won a playoff series since 1993. They have flirted with the worst fate a pro team can have: appearing irrelevant in its own market.
Things can only get better. For once, they just might.
The one huge reason is that this time, the buyers know they are getting only a hockey team and not a real estate bonanza. Say what you will about the move to Brooklyn next year -- and there is a reasonable argument that the Islanders really won't be the Islanders anymore -- but at least everybody knows the deal is done. Jon Ledecky and his former Harvard roommate, Scott Malkin, when they take majority control in two years, will not have one eye (or both eyes) on trying to develop the land around Nassau Coliseum. They will be in the hockey business, period.
Another bonus is that young professionals do like living in Brooklyn. Did you catch "The Tonight Show" Monday, when Bill Cosby was asking host Jimmy Fallon to define himself? The first thing he said, was "Jimmy Fallon, from Brooklyn." Maybe hockey free agents will feel the same way.
In typical Islanders fashion, though, this proposed sale has an oddball side. The long goodbye makes you wonder how the team will get anywhere for two years. What wacky deals might a lame-duck owner make? Will the National Hockey League even approve these terms? As Dee Karl, who lives, breathes and blogs Islanders (she writes under the byline "Seventh Woman"), put it, "It just shows that Charles is having a hard time letting go. He really loves this team."
No question on that. To Wang's credit, he kept the team here. He spent big money to bring in Michael Peca and Alexei Yashin. He gets kudos for insisting that the Islanders keep their crest and colors when the Brooklyn brain trust apparently wanted the team to dress like the Nets.
Where Wang went wrong was forgetting that a good team translates to good business. He would have fared a whole lot better in that public vote for a new arena if the Islanders were coming off a conference final run. What's more, judging from the Neil Smith fiasco, the owner was all too eager to overrule his experts.
Ledecky has been in the NHL as a minority owner of the Capitals. Also, as non-executive chairman of the board for Forbes, he presumably read a 2009 story in Forbes magazine about the amazing metamorphosis of the Blackhawks.
When William (Rocky) Wirtz succeeded his late father, Bill, as owner, he hired solid professionals and let them do their jobs: marketing whiz John McDonough as president, Stan Bowman as general manager, Joel Quenneville as coach. The Blackhawks held onto top young players Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and spent to surround them with accomplished veterans. Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita were welcomed back. The Blackhawks went from being a laughingstock to being the NHL's model franchise -- and a two-time Stanley Cup winner in a four-year span.
Right now, Islanders fans would take one playoff series win, and go from there. They have heard news like Tuesday's over and over, but still they figure there is no harm in hoping.