Mixed Signals / Milstein hedges about sale of Islanders
Just when talks regarding the sale of the Islanders
sparked back to life, co-owner Edward Milstein snuffed out the recent
reports by making a statement that's sure to send shock waves through
the desperate fans of the once-proud organization.
"I don't really want to sell the team," Milstein said during a
surprise visit to Islanders practice yesterday at Nassau Coliseum.
When asked if the franchise, which Milstein, his brother Howard and
Steven Gluckstern purchased for about $195 million in the spring of
1998, is on the market, Milstein replied, "No."
"We were approached and someone said they wanted to buy it," he said.
"There have been negotiations and someday they may show up, someday they
The "they" he was referring to is a Long Island-based group, fronted by
former Madison Square Garden president Bob Gutkowski, that signed a
letter of intent to purchase the team in late August and has followed an
excruciatingly slow due diligence process that has yet to produce a
signed sales contract despite various reports that the negotiations were
"Talk is cheap," Milstein said. "The reality is there are lots of people
that wanted to buy this team. Most of them had no money. When they show
up with money, I'll know that I'm selling the team. Other than that, I'm
not selling the team."
Milstein then said it is "very possible" the current ownership group
will remain beyond the end of the season. "We're building this team
assuming we're going to own this team," he said.
However, a person with knowledge of the situation told Newsday that
the Milstein-Gluckstern group is indeed interested in selling the team
and that a sales contract was presented to the lawyers from both sides
Reached at his home in Cold Spring Harbor, Gutkowski did not want to
comment on the negotiations, but did say the interest of his partners is
"real and sincere." Gutkowski's group includes former EMI Records North
America president Charles Koppelman, a Roslyn resident who runs his own
entertainment securities company, CAK Universal Credit, in Manhattan. No
one from the group would comment about the group's interest in
purchasing the team or Milstein's comments.
Steve Ellers, president of a 3,000-member fan organization called
the Save The Islanders Coalition, said if the team is not sold by the
current owners, "it would be a great disappointment" for the fans, who
have seen what once was a model organization in the NHL become one of
the league's most embarrassing failures in recent years. Ellers said the
fans are "waiting with bated breath for good news, and good news would
be that the team was sold to someone who cares."
Fans have been critical of the Milstein-Gluckstern regime during the
past year, especially after the recent salary purge that sent away
popular scoring forward Zigmund Palffy and team captain Trevor Linden,
among others, in exchange for unproven youngsters and a host of
promising, but years away, draft picks. The payroll was slashed from
about $28 million last season to the NHL's third lowest at $18.1 million
this season, according to The Hockey News. The second-year Nashville
Predators are the lowest at $16.6 million and the expansion Atlanta
Thrashers are next at $16.7 million. The Islanders, with an NHL-low
average age of 25.4 years, are 2-5-1.
"I had a $28-million payroll that barely could get out of their own
way," Milstein said of last season's 24-48-10 record, the third worst in
the league. "I had guys who were veterans in the league who were
underperforming...We may be marginally worse [this season], but I can't
say our $28-million payroll did so well."
Milstein said he doesn't blame the fans for their ire, acknowledging
"it's been a bad couple of years." And despite their fiscal struggles
and plummeting attendance, moving the franchise is not under
consideration. "This team belongs on Long Island," he said. He pointed
out, however, that the growing number of empty seats at Nassau
Coliseum-a trend that began more than a decade ago when the season
ticket base dropped from 14,000 to well under 5,000 this season-does not
affect the ownership as much as it does the players. "The only guys
you're penalizing is them," he said. "I'll lose money either way."
Money may be the most obvious element in any sale, but this transaction
might be snagged by the suffocating lease with the Coliseum's management
company, SMG, which commands 11 percent of ticket revenue, one-third of
advertising and all parking and concessions revenue produced by the
Islanders' 41 home games. "We walked into something which was worse than
anyone perceived," Milstein said. "However tough we thought it was, it
was three times worse."
With that in mind, any potential buyers are likely to take a longer look
at the constraints of the SMG lease, which was signed by previous owner
John O. Pickett and runs until 2015, and ways to work with it or buy out
of it before making a formal offer.
"As of right now," Milstein said, "all you do is lose money here."
Notes & Quotes: The Islanders Friday sent veteran center Tony Hrkac and
minor-league defenseman Dean Malkoc to Anaheim for center Ted Drury.
Hrkac, 33, saw his ice time diminish as 18-year-old rookie Tim Connolly
emerged as the team's third-line center. Drury, 28, gives the Islanders
another solid forechecker who is strong on the penalty kill. The team
also sent rookie defenseman Evgeny Korolev back to Lowell (AHL) and
recalled second-year defenseman Eric Brewer, 20, who had been demoted to
his first minor-league stint two weeks ago after a disappointing start
this season. The Islanders host the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday night
at Nassau Coliseum.