Michael Russo, beat writer for the Minnesota Star-Tribune had a great post about the glorious history of the New York Islanders as witnessed by Russo, who grew up on Long Island during those glory days.
From the very first game I ever covered at Nassau Coliseum (where I didn’t watch a minute of the game, I just stared at the banners that are even with the press box) to now, my heart always skips a beat or two when I walk across the parking lot from the hotel to the greatest sporting venue in pro sports.
It’s very easy to forget how much the Islanders mean to so many people. They’ve become a bit of an NHL joke. Unable to attract fans. Unable to attract free agents. Even unable to attract claimed goalies.
While Russo has fond memories of the Coliseum, most people don’t consider it a great place to visit, to watch a game, or to play in. It’s sad, given the incredible hockey that’s been played under its roof, but such is life in modern sports. Luxury always trumps history.
The Islanders have been trying to get a new arena for years. Unable to get one built, the team has languished, seemingly staging some kind of failure strike.
Given the Islanders’ rich history, when will the NHL step-in to help the franchise turn itself around? How can the league let a once-great franchise waste away?
The NHL can support a struggling franchise in many ways. Obviously, there’s financial support. But there’s also advisory support. If the NHL isn’t working with the Islanders to help them figure out how they can get a new Long Island-based arena, perhaps the league can loan the Islanders some people to help with that process.
And perhaps its time for the league to informally advise the Islanders on personnel matters. Like if the Islanders want to return to their dynastic roots, maybe Trevor Gillies, who seems to think he’s some kind of professional wrestler, isn’t the best guy to have on the roster.
I’m convinced that if the Islanders could get themselves on track, tons of fans who rooted for the team decades ago would return not just to the Islanders, but perhaps to hockey. I suspect there are lots of Islanders fans who have left the game as the team has gone through some rough times, but who might be compelled to return if the team started attracting any kind of buzz.
The Islanders came very close to returning to legitmacy in the early 2000s, with a Michael Peca-led team that couldn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs. But that was a team that was shackled with the highly unpopular Alexei Yashin (and his equally unpopular contract). While that team seemed to bring some fans back, their lack of playoff success didn’t give them much to get excited about.
The Islanders, and their history, are a very valuable resource. It’s easy to forget just how good they were from 1979-1983. If the league could help get the franchise back on track, I’m convinced the fans from those dynasty years would return to the team. It’s one thing to have a guy like legendary Islander Mike Bossy reaching out to fans to sell them season tickets. It’s quite another thing to give fans a competitive team that they can root for over the course of an entire season and deep into the playoffs.
If the league wants to help keep the Islanders on Long Island, maybe it’s time to help the team improve itself.