Asked why the Isles aren't allowed to partake in revenue sharing, as several other NHL teams have done, Bettman explained they aren't eligible under the collective bargaining agreement as a "small market" team. ... "The CBA doesn't contemplate that a franchise in a market with more than 2.5 million households is eligible for revenue sharing."
So, there's no prospect of even minimal help from the NHL for the Islanders. And even with a renovated Coliseum, there's no way for Wang to begin recovering some of his losses without approval of a significant portion of the Lighthouse Project.
>>Greg Logan, On the Islanders Beat
This is a question I've kept to myself for a while, but one that nags nonetheless: Does the NHLPA -- which is a "partner" with the league and has expressed support for relocating troubled teams -- think the Islanders should stay in this market? Gary Bettman keeps beating the drum in the belief that it can work. Does the NHLPA agree?
Now, as noted, the Islanders do not eat from the revenue sharing trough, so that concern is out. And while Charles Wang loses some $20 million-plus per year on the team, the club pulls in a hefty chunk of revenue from its TV deal. So as long as the club has an owner like Wang willing to subsidize the losses (although for not much longer, if the Lighthouse project doesn't launch), the NHLPA might not mind when there is at least one franchise in greater trouble.
Plus, if non-Isles fan commenters who drift by this site are any indication, there is some sentiment for saving a historic Cup-winning franchise, a sentiment among long-time hockey fans that does not exist for Atlanta or Phoenix.
There is NHLPA support for a second team in the Toronto area, which few seem to think would flop. Other than that market, though, it's unclear what other "traditional" market has the population and corporate base to support a relocated or expansion team.
This specific topic hasn't gone through the typical Toronto media "thought balloon" loop that typifies every NHL/NHLPA issue. But just for the thought exercise: Suppose the Coyotes were moved to the Toronto area, appeasing at least one faction of the NHLPA. Would the union then also want another struggling team -- such as the Islanders -- to take the virtually free new building on offer in Kansas City? Or to take another billionaire's money in Las Vegas? Uncertain long-term bets, those, but possible short-term revenue boosts compared to the status quo.
This well-circulated Glen Healy quote -- an NHLPA official (and ex-Islander!) -- is fresh on the mind:
"We can't do anything, but we do question why franchises are in certain places," Healy said. "We care because they are tied to us with the [salary-cap] system we're in and the cost certainty. Some of these franchises are like an anchor, or even the Titanic, and we're going down with them."
Second team in Toronto excluded, would the union prefer the league hop from ship to ship as soon as a better offer arrives when times get rough? Or is there an expiration date or time-and-revenue litmus test, after which it's time to give up on a market?
Personally, if the league wants a large continental footprint for the long-term, I think it would be wise to stay in existing southern markets wherever possible. Barring disaster, those U.S. spots have the (ever-growing) population and base to be eventual successes -- particularly if a place like Florida or Atlanta can put out a consistently decent team. (It's hard to imagine any NHL team thriving under a decade with zero playoff success while still charging NHL prices.)
Hate on "the South" or the Sun Belt all you want, but there is a Stanley Cup-winning club with raucous playoff crowds right now in Raleigh, and there is a Stanley Cup-winning club in Anaheim with a healthy building that's about to host Games 3 and 4 between the last two Cup winners. If we believe in this stimulant that is playoff hockey, do we not believe it can have a similar addictive effect on the "uninitiated" when experienced in proper doses?
Granted, macro trends change, oh yes they do -- so much so that 15 years ago either Alberta-based team's survival was in question, and the Canadian dollar was the league's biggest worry. (Thankfully, the Alberta clubs didn't suffer the same fate as the three relocated WHA franchises.)
But building new markets over a generation requires taking the long view, and owners -- be they millionaires or crooks (or both) -- come and go as they die, fail, or make their land deal and move on. They are not, in fact, one body: They are an association of people of power whose membership changes over time. And you know who has an even shorter time horizon than owners for taking the money while it's there? The players.
Which brings us back to the NHLPA. If they could take an official position, would they say Long Island is a viable long-term market, if only the Islanders could see a little sustained success (and a new building)? Do they believe it's worth enduring a few more low-revenue years on the Island if the payoff is a healthier club generating greater revenue either in Nassau County or another local site?
Or do they see it as a candidate for relocation? (Hey, unlike Phoenix, the Islanders' lease is up in 2015.) Do they see a region with two other existing NHL clubs and think it's time to think short-term and move the weakest one to some place salivating for a club? In this sense, with players as "partners" in the league revenue game, they become like those hated owners who see publicly funded arena deals as part of their trough.
Certainly, we know that the Islanders can pack the building when the team displays some success and some reason to believe in management. While the area is already "served" by the Rangers and Devils, if the Islanders were no more, those fans aren't just going to start rooting for bitter rivals. On the contrary, their days of lining the pockets of NHL owners for tickets, overpriced beer and stale popcorn are probably finished.
I don't pretend to think the NHL really wants the NHLPA's opinion on this. For a "partnership," they sure don't tango much -- not when the NHLPA says its greatest competitive wishes are enforcement of head shots and relaxing the instigator, but the NHL responds by making it even harder to fight and by saying head shot deterrence is fine as is.
Still, if the NHL is a three-tiered triangle of stakeholders among owners, players and fans, the players represent that sizable and still-influential middle tier. On the question of the Islanders, the last uninterrupted NHL dynasty, I wonder where they stand.