Whenever venerable members of the Islanders family get together, as they have done this week in Southampton for the first Captains Retreat, stories flow freely and are generally as fresh as if they happened yesterday. Except for one tale, which got old long ago yet never seems to go away.
It is the one about where the Islanders go from here. That has become a tired script, as far as the former captains are concerned. During their few days at Sebonack Golf Club, they have been asked for input on how to get the franchise stabilized once and for all.
“Talking for most of the fans that I talk to, they want a little clarity on where the team is going to be,” said Clark Gillies, who settled on Long Island when he was a rookie in 1974. “I don’t think they like the situation of not knowing.”
The major lingering question about a new home, and the related issue of how that will affect the future of current captain John Tavares — who also is part of the retreat — is on many minds as key players in the team’s history meet with co-owner Jon Ledecky and other Islanders officials.
Ed Westfall, the one who has been around longest as the original team captain in 1972, said, “It must be so difficult for Mr. Ledecky and his partner [Scott Malkin], trying to figure out the best thing to do for the team. And the fans, they’ve been kicked all over the place. Nobody gave two hoots about them.”
Westfall does know where he would start to seek answers: the office of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “I’d love to say: ‘Let me ask you something. You brought Charles Wang and Sanjay Kumar into the fold as owners. You brought them in. Why did you let [Wang] move the team to Brooklyn? And then within a year you let him sell it? So why did you let him move it, one, and then sell it, two? What’s going on?’
“Then he gets on TV during the All-Star break and badmouths the arena, the ice and everything. He was the guy responsible,” Westfall said of Bettman, adding that the commissioner had suggested Wang hire Mike Milbury as general manager, a move that he said put the Islanders “at the bottom of the ocean.”
Gillies said, “As much as Barclays Center is a beautiful arena, it just doesn’t seem to fit. The hockey funs just aren’t really buying into it. Does that mean we try to go back to the Coliseum? Maybe there is an interim thing at the Coliseum while they build a new rink someplace? My main concern is we keep them here in the New York area. I’d rather have it on the Island. We’ll see. It’s going to take some time.”
Time is not on the Islanders’ side, though. With Tavares’ contract expiring after the upcoming season, he would like a solid answer about where he will play if he decides to stay. One way or another, Denis Potvin hopes it works out.
“I have full confidence that everything will be done by the ownership to entice him,” the Hall of Fame defenseman said. “There’s only so much money and John will get that money anywhere. Money should not be the factor. The deciding factor is loyalty and the fact that you believe the ownership is going to do something terrific here on Long Island.”
Michael Peca, the captain during a mini-revival, believes it still is fertile ground. He recalled how Nassau Coliseum shook with excitement in the 2002 playoffs. “It was incredible. It was bone-chilling, it really was,” he said. “That’s why we were so dominant [at home] in that series against Toronto. The fans gave us that extra boost of energy. Those fans had been waiting for that for what seemed like a long, long time. Way too long.”