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Perception of Islanders now? From negative to positive

John Tavares skates during a game against the

John Tavares skates during a game against the Florida Panthers. (Feb. 12, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Of all the positives the Islanders have gained from their deal to move to Brooklyn in 2015, the biggest one may be something that can't be quantified in added revenue dollars or new season-ticket holders or points in the standings.

It's perception. People around the NHL -- fellow executives, opposing players and their agents -- finally might start to see the Islanders in a new light even before they play a game at Barclays Center. For that matter, even before the puck gets dropped on this locked-out season.

The slightest change in the way hockey people think about the Islanders could make all the difference in how general manager Garth Snow is able to shape his roster going forward.

It's the difference between thinking John Tavares was crazy for signing a six-year, $33-million extension last fall and thinking Tavares now is the building block for a team that will have a fancy new home in just a few years.

It's the difference between free agents scoffing at calls from Snow on July 1, thinking about what a drag it is to spend even a night at the Coliseum and its no-frills surroundings, and free agents wondering what the new facility will look like and whether the team can contend.

"I've never had any answers to the questions I hear [from free agents]," Snow said on a Toronto radio station this past week, "and that's because I'd have the same questions myself if I was in their shoes."

Now potential additions can look at the Islanders' roster and not see a team that's in year five of a grinding, cost-effective rebuild. They can see what the Islanders have going forward, not what they've been missing for too long.

There still are huge question marks that will affect Snow's operation, ones that will be determined by the collective- bargaining agreement that results from the current lockout:

Revenue sharing: The Islanders may be headed for Barclays Center and better revenue streams, but they still are near the bottom of the league in revenue. If a new CBA calls for revenue sharing for the bottom 10 teams in the league, the Isles will qualify, adding much-needed money for upgrades.

Cap hits vs. actual salary: The Islanders have, for several seasons, dragged themselves above the salary-cap floor with bigger cap hits and unreachable bonuses rather than actual payouts. A new CBA likely will eliminate that practice, meaning the Isles will have to find real players to pay to make the floor.

Contract limits: Snow, as directed by owner Charles Wang, never offered front-loaded deals to any of the big-name free agents to whom the Islanders made offers. If the new CBA restricts contract lengths to five or six years and doesn't allow front-loading, it's a much more level playing field.

Between those systemic changes to the financial structure of the league and the Islanders' move, suddenly this team doesn't seem so hapless.

"I don't think we change our mentality, because we've been focused on a plan for a long time," Snow said. "The answers we get back may be more positive now."

The Islanders still have holes to fill. Travis Hamonic can be an elite defenseman, but the franchise is thin on the blue line, and 2009 first-rounder Calvin de Haan's latest major shoulder injury exposes that lack of depth.

Besides Tavares, consistent scoring has been an issue for a few seasons. The Rick DiPietro saga continues, though perhaps the hockey world will realize now that DiPietro isn't the future in goal (that would be Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson). Nor is DiPietro emblematic of everything that is wrong with the Islanders. He's a player with a bad contract. Every team has one, or more.

That is what comes from perception. The Islanders looked cheap in their rebuild, but with a new, more restrictive CBA and a new home on the horizon, they suddenly look shrewd, perhaps better able to take advantage of other teams' mistakes and overpayments.

Snow and his coaching staff will have to translate this to the ice when the league resumes. But the Islanders went into this lockout still one of the league's punching bags. They're coming out with some momentum. Funny how perception can change like that.

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