Mike Milbury has not been to Barclays Center yet, but the former Islanders coach and general manager and current NBC analyst said he has heard both good things about the team’s new home and “some awkward things about it.”
That includes the unusual configuration, with many obstructed-view seats. But Milbury said he also is concerned about the logistical setup of the Islanders’ new world.
“I always thought it was going to be tough to make it a Long Island-based team with a home base in Brooklyn,” he said Monday in an interview to promote Wednesday night’s Rangers-Islanders game on NBCSN. “I had talked to Charles [Wang, the team’s owner] about that and he said, ‘Hey, we’re intent on having the practice facility in Syosset.’
“I thought that sort of defeated the charm of going to Brooklyn. They were leaving Long Island. Their home games are not on Long Island anymore. It’s going to be tough to convince all those Long Island fans to continue to support the team when it’s in Brooklyn.
“I thought that was the better play — but what do I know, it’s not my team or my money — was to make sure it became a Brooklyn-based team.”
But in the end, Milbury said, “everybody loves a winner,” and he likes what he sees from the Islanders in hockey terms.
“In the end, it’s still the ice surface that counts, and they have a pretty good team, and if they add a piece here or there, they’re a team that’s to be reckoned with,” he said.
“I can’t tell you they’re ready to push to the conference final, but they’re a good team loaded to go and I think Garth [Snow, the general manager] has done a good job getting them into that position. The tough part comes now, getting it over the hump.
“They’re a hard-nosed team and a team that is going to be tough to beat. I worry about their goaltending from time to time . . . [John] Tavares is such a special player, he can carry a line. But it seems like they’re getting some different guys to step to the plate. That’s what you need.”
Milbury does not think the move to Brooklyn will change the intensity of the rivalry between the Islanders and Rangers.
“The rivalry was special from the beginning. From its birth it’s been special,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s in Brooklyn or Long Island. I think the tone has already been set and I don’t think that’s going to change. I think both teams feel the same way and both sets of fans feel the same way.”
Milbury said he “underestimated” the Rangers’ ability to pick up where they left off last season. They remain one of the league’s strongest teams.
“I think [goaltender Henrik] Lundqvist has been tremendous and seems like he’s taken the challenge that [coach Alain] Vigneault gave him and run with it,” he said, referring to Vigneault’s mandate last spring that Lundqvist get off to a strong regular-season start this fall.
“It’s tough to say this, but the clock is ticking on him and it’s ticking on this group of Rangers that are really well-balanced. They have a terrific set of defensemen. They’re all not really burly, not too big, but they can all skate, all move the puck and they can defend and they’re willing to pay a price.
“And up front they have a balanced attack. It’s tough for [Rick] Nash to wear his title. His shoes are great. He’s making seven million bucks a year and he’s considered a star player. He could have filled them in April. They need star players, not just Nash, to step up in April and May.
“They’re a good team and they could certainly win this conference. Where you worry about them is they’re not very big. Can they be durable enough to go the distance without getting nicked up again? Speed overcomes some of that. And it’s a different kind of game now than it was years ago. They’re in good position . . . They stack up pretty well, I think.”