Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.

The latest twist to the Islanders' woes this season was a unique one: There were two teams on the ice at Nassau Coliseum last night and two contingents of fans, one for a team that doesn't exist anymore.

More than 1,100 Quebecois descended on the Coliseum, hooting and hollering their desire for a team in Quebec City; there were as many Peter Stastny and Joe Sakic Nordiques jerseys in the stands as John Tavares jerseys while the Islanders faced the Thrashers.

And, were it not for those from the self-proclaimed "Nordiques Nation," the Coliseum would have had another four-digit crowd; 10,056 fans were announced in attendance. They saw yet another loss, a come-from-behind 5-4 victory by the Thrashers, making it a 1-16-3 skid now for the Islanders and the few fans who still come out.

Garth Snow - a former Nordiques draft pick - welcomed the out-of-towners, and why wouldn't he? It's another 1,000-plus tickets sold for a team that is looking for any and all ways to pad its bottom line, even as it continues to pad its loss total in a season that's quickly gotten out of hand.

"There's a lot of variables that go into attendance," Snow said, "and not winning games is a big part of it."

The NHL has taken note of both Quebec's desire for a team and the Islanders' dwindling attendance, but league vice president Bill Daly told Newsday in an e-mail Saturday that the league had no reaction to the Nordiques Nation rally on Long Island.

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Nor has commissioner Gary Bettman had any discussions with Charles Wang about the state of the Islanders, with the league's Board of Governors meetings just wrapped this week in Florida.

Wang, who declined repeated interview requests from Newsday this week, has made his position clear. He wants a new development, not a new or renovated Coliseum. Without an agreement, the Islanders are playing out the string until their lease expires in 2015.

"I know we're not going to play one day longer than we have to in this arena," Snow said last night.

This season is not drastically different off the ice the for the Islanders. They have been in the bottom third of the NHL in attendance for the entire decade Wang has owned the team, among the bottom three clubs in the league since the lockout ended in 2005.

They lead only the Coyotes this season, averaging 10,711 a game; many fans, even the diehards, have wilted in the face of losing 19 of 20, changing coaches and another season of crippling injuries.

Piling on the Islanders' misery seems to be the only attention they get these days. The fun and festive Quebec crowd last night will only be perceived as another black mark against the Isles, where a thousand tickets can be scared up on a moment's notice.

"We've got to let our game speak for itself," Snow said. "The only way to change all that is to win games."

The $480-million for a new Quebec City arena is still in the fund- raising stage, so any reborn Nordiques team is still several years away.

By then, we will all know what's to become of the Islanders. For now, the fans won't come until the team shows some improvement. Wang won't spend more on established stars until he has a deal with Hempstead to build his dream development. And Snow won't mortgage the future no matter how ugly the present gets.

The cycle will continue long after Nordiques Nation has returned home.