Thursday, November 15, 2012

Shame! Why the NHL & NHLPA Should be Ashamed of Themselves

The NHL lock-out has entered day 60, Thanksgiving is one week away and we are again in danger of losing another entire NHL season 7 years after having already lost an entire season.

That statement in of itself is so out there ridiculous when you consider what exactly is at stake here.

Both sides are content to sit and play to the press and tow the line and tell the public that the other guy is wrong and they are the one who is not at fault for the lock out.

A lot has been said about 50-50. Split all of the revenue down the middle and lets play hockey. After all there cant be an NHL without the teams, and there cannot be an NHL without the players. It would seem the NHL and its players association are in the same boat and its a 3.3 billion dollar boat and they cannot decide which state room to call their own.

All fans of the game want is there to be hockey to watch especially in times like this. I live on Long Island. This is an area that was just ravaged by Hurricane Sandy and things for the fortunate ones who still have homes are slowly returning to normal. For those who lost their homes well that is another story. They are staying with relatives, good samaritans, shelters and hotels waiting for insurance money or FEMA assistance.

Think for a minute how it must feel when all of they things that you work for are floating around in the Atlantic Ocean all while two spoiled children are fighting over a 3.3 billion dollar pie. Maybe if the NHL was in session it could give someone who has lost in this tragedy something to think about other than how they are going to recover from a disaster.

Another casualty of the NHL lock out are jobs. There are thousands of people out of work right now in direct cause of the NHL lock out. Arenas have cut back in staff. Teams have laid off hundreds of workers because right now, the NHL is out of business. You can take it further than that. What about the popcorn vendors, concession workers, team store employees, box office workers, security personnel and arena ushers.

Take it further than that. How about the small business owner? The bars, hotels, restaurants and shop owners who are doing no business thanks to the lock out?

Everyone mentioned above are fans of the NHL. They may not be hockey fans but they make all or part of their living off of the NHL. Not while this joke of a lock out continues.

So much has been made of "make whole" provisions to make sure players get every cent of every dollar they have coming to them. That is understandable but who is going to make all of the people listed above whole?

The NHL owners do not care about fans in the respect that they know that they will never want for anything. I cannot feel bad for guys in the NHL owners who basically have NHL franchises as play things and if they play or do not play it really doesn't effect their lives one way or another. If the NHL folded and went out of business they would write off the loss and move on and look for another multi-million dollar toy to play with.

The NHLPA does not care about the fans in the respect that most of them are millionaires many times over and have risen above a normal life of the 99%. They play hockey for a living. Granted players are under intense pressure from the media and fans but at the end of the day they play a game for a living. I know not all of the NHLPA are millionaires, but a very high percentage of them are. If the NHL went out of business tomorrow they would do as they have done now and that is go find hockey to play somewhere else.

Will their lives be effected? Sure. Will they still play a game for a living and make millions? Yes they will.

The fans of the NHL are its bread and butter. The NHL does not make a tremendous amount of money from TV like the other three major sports do. They need to build the game without major TV money. You do that by putting out an entertaining product on the ice and draw as many people to the games as possible and build a fan base to the point where more people increase the TV ratings. The bottom line in the NHL is if you do not draw at or near capacity over a season you do not turn a profit.

You cannot continue to grow a games fan base when you shut down the league every few years to argue over more money than any fan will ever see in a lifetime.

NHL fans are fiercly loyal this is true, myself included. You would think if this is the case then why does the NHL and its players treat its fans so poorly. Damage is being done to the fan base of a league that depends almost entirely on its fan base to spend big money to come to the 30 arenas in the NHL. After the 2004 debacle I would not for a long time spend my money on the NHL. Why should I? I watched games on TV sure, rooted for the team sure but I was not going to spend my money on a league and players who would cancel an entire season of hockey over money.

Time heals all wounds right? I came around eventually and started buying tickets, jerseys and NHL things again. I will go on record and say this: If they lose another entire season over money, I will not spend my money on the NHL again. There are people who will go right back but they should not. If another season is lost the fans of the NHL should ban together and boycott this game if and when each side decides they have enough of the golden nugget.

Imagine this. The NHL loses another season as talks break down and there is no time to fit in even an abbreviated season. Next summer the NHL and NHLPA hunker down and get a deal done. They both write long drawn out meaningless apologies to the fans and take full page ads in all NHL cities newspapers apologizing for losing another season. They open their doors and finally start playing hockey. The Rangers open at Madison Square Garden in front of 2,500 fans. The Toronto Maple Leafs face the Montreal Canadiens in front of 3,000 fans. Edmonton and Calgary open in front of 2,200 fans. The Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings open against St. Louis and raise their Stanley Cup banner in front of 2,000 fans.

Do you think they NHL and the NHLPA would get the message? This would be the NHL fans, the equivalent of the skinny wimpy kid punching the bully of the NHL and NHLPA right in the nose. The message would be received much like it was received by Major League baseball when attendance and ratings were down huge after they lost the second half of the season in 1994.

It took years for baseball to recover from the strike of 1994. Granted the NHL fan base is not nearly as large as baseball's. That is no excuse. If the NHL loses this season if attendance and ratings are not down by a large margin then as fans we are accepting of this treatment by the NHL and the NHLPA and will be inviting the same in the future.

In short, there has to be repurcussions. There has to be pay back. If there isn't, then we are just as bad as the NHL and the NHLPA for accepting it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The New York Islanders are Moving to Brooklyn: Thoughts From the Fans

The saga is over Islander fans. We now know something that has been a question since the mid 1990's. The New York Islanders, who have called Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum home for 40 years are leaving the aged arena for the brand spanking new Barclay's Center in Brooklyn.

We will have some time to contemplate how this is going to change our hockey lives as Islander fans because as of right now, The Islanders have to honor their lease which anchors them to Nassau until 2015.

Shocked? Surprised? Angry?

These are words that I am hearing from a lot long time Islander fans. The anger however is not directed at Islanders owner Charles Wang for the most part. It is directed at those who are squarely to blame for the Islanders moving west. The story begins back in the 1990's as the Islanders were owned by what Islander fans have known as the Gluckstern-Milstien disaster. These guys were the saviors at the time, rescuing the Islanders from John O. Pickett and his absentee ownership as well as the NHL's debacle allowing a scam artist in John Spano to "buy" the team when he could not even afford to buy season tickets.

The Gluckstern-Milstien disaster was basically the Islanders ownership group trying to have the Nassau Coliseum condemned so they could break the lease with Nassau County and try to strong arm the construction of a new coliseum. As we all know, you cannot strong arm your way through Nassau County red tape and Town of Hempstead politics. They moved the Islanders offices out of the building and claimed it was unsafe to inhabit an said the Islanders would not play any games in the arena. They even went so far as to say that the scoreboard was in danger of falling from the ceiling.

Tom Gulotta, the Nassau County Executive at the time called the Islanders owners "pigs at a trough" for trying to strong arm a new arena out of the county. Maybe not the best way to negotiate for a new arena? Once it was clear that the ownership was not going to get what they wanted they immediately gave up and slashed payroll to the bear minimum and put the team on the market again.

Enter Charles Wang and his ex partner Sanjay Kumar and the Islanders have had something they haven't had in what seemed forever. Stable ownership. Not only stable ownership but one with super deep pockets and a desire to work with, not against the powers that be to get what The Islanders and Nassau County needed - a renovated or new Nassau Coliseum.

There is no doubt that Charles Wang bought this team and the Marriott Hotel right next to the arena and other surrounding properties as a means to an end. That end would be the much ballyhooed "Nassau Hub" project. Which has been talked about for many many years as a "destination spot" for Long Islanders to be able to come live, shop or see a show or a sporting event. Charles Wang had grand plans for this project which he had designed and called "The Lighthouse Project". Partnering on the deal with monster real estate developer Rexcorp gave the project a real shot at getting off the ground.

Mr. Wang did not try to force this project on anyone. He did not try to get the tax payers of Nassau County foot the bill. This was going to be a privately financed monster construction project that would have created construction jobs for thousands of workers. It also would have created much needed lower to mid cost housing for singles out of college looking to build a life on Long Island. The Lighthouse project went through several design iterations during the long, drawn out approval process. Ultimately the project was given Nassau County approval. It was given New York State approval. Then it fell to the governing body known as the Town of Hempstead. Surely this would not be an issue, right? Surely they could see the benefits of such a project, right? Surely they would work with Mr. Wang to get this deal done, right? Wrong. Instead of trying to work with Mr. Wang and his Lighthouse project the Town of Hempstead had the audacity to come up with their own vision of what they thought should be built there going so far as to present an artists rendering.

Excuse me? Since when does a publicly elected governing body tell a private developer what he can build? They presented a zoning plan that cut down the project to such a level that not only did Charles Wang not see the value in it, no one else has seen the value in it either. Not one private developer has seen a way they can take the Town of Hempstead's zoning plan and create something that is economically viable.

That ended the Lighthouse project as Mr. Wang saw no further options and killed the project. If you didnt see the writing on the wall there, then I have a bridge to sell you.

But wait. Newly elected Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano has a plan. Why don't we ask the people of Nassau County to foot the bill and we can repay them with the revenue a new arena would bring in! Sounds brilliant right? The people of Nassau have voted themselves thousands of dollars in tax increases every single year in school budgets without anything to show for it other than the school districts saying "vote for the kids". It would have cost the Nassau tax payers a minimum of $12 a year in increases to build the arena. Oh. Wait a minute I said minimum. What about the maximum? The maximum one time tax increase would have been $58. No people that is not a typo. We could have had a new arena built in Nassau County and had our taxes raised a maximum of $58 dollars a year. Not every year, but one time.

No matter how small the amount, the ill informed masses came out to vote against the referendum voting it down 57% to 43%. That people would be the final straw. The main reason people voted against it is because they said Charles Wang is a billionaire. He can afford it. Oh he can afford it? Does that mean he should biuld a $300 million dollar arena that he doesnt own on land he doesnt own? Maybe If you can convince me that anyone would pay money to build something that is not theirs maybe you can get Charles Wang to build me a new kitchen.

The bottom line is that this was the last ditch effort to keep the Islanders in Nassau and it not only failed, it tanked because it showed the short sightedness of a majority of the people who voted.

Enter Brett Ratner and his brand spanking new Barclay's Center, opening its doors and saying hey it isnt perfect but I want you here. They will build the Islanders a state of the art locker room, training facility and give the Islanders the stability they craved in Nassau. They will in one swoop, bring the Islanders the solid foundation that players can look at and say to themselves that is a place I want to play, not a place I go when no one else wants me. No people, those days are coming to a close.

Charles Wang tried everything to do what was best for Nassau County. He spent tens of millions of hos own money keeping the franchise running. He spent tens of millions of dollars on plans and development studies. He spent thousands of hours negotiating the political red tape and politicians empty promises to come up with nothing. All the while this jewel of an arena was growing brighter on the horizon promising everything that Nassau County has failed to deliver.

For the Islander fan who is angry at the situation look at it this way: Charles Wang knew when he bought the team he had a long hard road ahead but all he had was time. He had 15 years on the lease with the County. 12 years later, tens of millions spent, countless hours wasted, countless lies by politicians told the end of the road is here. There is not enough time for the team to get an arena done. Not only that there are no prospects for an arena to be built. The County sent out a Request for Proposals this year and what have they gotten in return. Nothing. The Town of Hempstead's zoning plan makes redevelopment of the 77 acre site a non starter with an arena on the site.

If you want a villain, look at Kate Murray and the Town of Hempstead. This is the reason we will be boarding the LIRR to watch the Islanders in 2015. And you know what, we will do it.

To me it comes down to a simple fact. If we are still fans of this franchise after all of the trials, jokes, embarrassments, bad trades, bad contracts, leaky roofs, free agent failures, embarrassing promotions, that ridiculous logo change, Mike Milbury, Neil Smith, and other issues that have surrounded the team if moving 22 miles to the west is a deal breaker, then you were never a true Islander fan to begin with.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

NY Islanders: Shoring Up the Defense

The Islanders used the 2012 NHL draft for one express purpose. That was to revamp the teams number one problem in 2011. Before the draft Islanders GM Garth Snow sent a 2013 second round pick to the Anaheim Ducks for 35 year old NHL veteran blue-liner Lubomir Visnovsky. Visnovsky is an outstanding pick up for the Islanders for many reasons. One is his cap hit which at 5.6 million is exactly what the team needs to reach the salary cap floor. Then there is the fact that his actual salary is three million, which helps maintain the Islanders low budget. In addition he also presents an outstanding trade chip option should the team falter in 2012-13 and fail to challenge for a playoff spot. He will be an unrestricted free agent after this season so he does not come with a lengthy commitment. Now the to the nuts and bolts. He is an excellent puck moving and power play defenseman who with Mark Streit will make either an excellent 102 punch on the point with the Islanders power play, or be the backbone of the number two power play unit. Either way the Islanders pathetic power play has been vastly improved. Onto the draft itself. What would the Islanders do with their pick? The top three picks went exactly as most people thought with Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray and Alex Galchenyuk going with the first three picks. There was a collective gasp with NHL commisioner Gary Bettman walked to the podium and announced the there was a trade to announce. Were the Islanders trading down? Did they trade the pick for a veteran? As it turns out all Bettman was doing was announcing the Islanders aquisition of Visnovsky. Garth Snow was on the clock and there was pretty much one name most of the fans in the know wanted to hear. 6'4" Griffin Rienhart was the kid the fans wanted and when Garth Snow walked up and made just that pick a wave of cheers and applause went through the almost ten thousand people at the draft party. When exactly Reinhart will be in an Islander uniform is anyone's guess. It is doubtful he will be in an Islander uniform this season. The Islanders defense for 2012-12 looks to be set from one through four with Mark Streit, Visnovsky, Travis Hamonic and Andy MacDonald. Who will be the fifth and sixth defenseman you ask? Well Its time for Calvin de Haan to show he belongs in the NHL and he should fill one of those spots. Then you have Ty Wishart, Mark Katic and Aaron Ness who should all get consideration. One wild card could be 6'4" Scott Mayfield who should get a long look in prospect camp. On a side note, or maybe it isnt a side note and should be more front and center, the Islanders are hyping the heck out of their "Inaugural Game" at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn. The are selling T-Shirts hyping their "Inaugural Game" in Brooklyn. I will examine this development in my next article. Please discuss these and any other topics you want.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New York Islanders: Will the Most Recent Successes Last?

Two impressive victories over the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames have begun to let optimism shine on the Islanders again. Will or can it last?

The Islanders have shown that they are capable of being responsible in their own end of the ice. Any NHL coach will tell you that team defense is the key to success at the NHL level. Right now the Islanders are minimizing their mistakes which this season have been glaring at times. Opposing forwards are not being given time to create quality chances in front of Evgeni Nabokov.

The defense is also keeping the puck to the outside of the slot where offensive chances are few and far between. Giving up outside shots 25 times a game as opposed to ten quality chances in the slot is going to be the key for this team moving forward into the second half of the season.

The offense has shown signs of being a bit more balanced as Head Coach Jack Capuano has chosen to break up his most effective line of John Tavares, Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau. Tavares and Moulson are now teamed with struggling but talented right wing Kyle Okposo. The results so far have been good as Okposo has managed to replace Parenteau's passing ability by giving Tavares more room on the ice using his size to draw players to him. Tavares has responded by creating many more scoring opportunities.

Parenteau, who in my opinion should be signed to a multi-year contract has played very well with Frans Nielsen and Brian Rolston. He also is still teamed with Tavares and Moulson on the top Islander power play unit.

The rest of the Islander forwards have shown signs of life with Josh Bailey still looking to define his role with the team. Bailey is a perplexing player to watch. At times he can look like he will fulfill the promise as he has shown in short stints. The problem is these flashes of brilliance are followed by long periods of maddening inconsistency and poor decision making. More experience will serve him well.

Matt Martin is growing as a player and given some more time can really turn into a player the Islanders need badly. Its one thing to skate around and simply bang bodies all game. Its another to bang bodies, agitate the opponent, score a few goals here and there and contribute at all facets of the game. Martin has the tools to become a fine power forward in the NHL.

Michael Grabner has been hampered with a few injuries here and there slowing him down at times. Once healed he should return to being the weapon he was last season.

In goal Evgeni Nabokov has stabilized the position with his solid play over the past two weeks. The difference now is the team in front of him is performing and minimizing the high quality scoring chances against. Al Montoya remains out with a concussion has as of last report has not even resumes skating. Rick DiPietro is traveling with the team to Carolina but it is very doubtful he will get the nod over Nabokov.

The goals for the Islanders moving forward this year are to keep the offensive chances of the opponent to a minimum. Nabokov's goaltending should be enough to keep them competitive in every game as long as he stays healthy.

As far as goals for second half of this season, is a playoff berth still a plausible goal? As anything with the Islanders there are a lot of "ifs" attached. They currently sit last in the Eastern Conference nine points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the last playoff spot. In front of the Islanders blocking their path to that spot are the talented but underachieving Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Despite that fact the Islanders chances could be boosted by the fact that there are only three points separating fifth from eighth place in the East. Maybe that is enough if the Islanders can put together a solid stretch of ten games to minimize the distance between themselves and the coveted eighth playoff spot.

The Islanders can either make the second half of the season an exciting chase or another lost season. Which way do yo think it will go?