The media, Charles Wang, and a pointless use of a fishbowl lens
When you look back at the season that was, one of the big dates for the team was Dec 16. The 3-2 win over the Ducks didn't seem to be a big deal at the time. But the Islanders started turning their season around following that game. They went on to have one of the best records in the East from that date. Another date to remember though was Dec. 11, as New York Post
Rangers hockey beat writer Larry Brooks proclaimed that Bettman and the league must act to save the Islanders from the ownership of Charles Wang.
Six months later, Brooks is singing a different tune. Now the Islanders are putting together something good on the Island with a young core, and the long term signings of Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo "will allow Wang and general manager Garth Snow to keep their team's emerging nucleus intact at least until either the team moves into a new Coliseum or moves to a new location." (Did he miss pending UFA Matt Moulson's three-year extension in January? While RFAs Grabner and KO could have possibly signed elsewhere for more money, Moulson as an upcoming UFA had much more to lose by staying with this "sinking" ship and not testing the market.)
Apparently now the league doesn't need to step in. Below are some of the "best" quotes from Brooks' December column (which elicited this Devils-themed parody at our site). He laid out his argument for league takeover with such insightful lines as:
Charles Wang is not getting his Lighthouse. That does not give him the right to act as the equivalent of a slumlord for the remaining four years of his team's lease at Nassau Coliseum
What kind of atmosphere is this for John Tavares -- once the 16-year-old center of attention across Canada who is hiding in plain sight on Long Island -- to develop?
I almost wish I could just quote the whole article:
And Bettman can urge Wang to either seek alternatives to Lighthouse on Long Island or in Queens or to immediately put the team up for sale to prospective purchasers who would pledge to keep the team here.
And this is obviously Wang's plan:
If Wang is simply going to be allowed to run out the clock until the lights are turned off, the Islanders as an entity will be worthless. Is this the owner's endgame, to remembered as the man who turned the franchise into a blight on the community?
A few months later in February he fired another shot across the bow of the Islanders. With the Bernie Madoff scandal ruining the Wilpons, it became apparent any hopes for them to come in and "save" the team were long gone. Brooks once again claimed:
Now, though, the fate of the franchise seems to be entirely in the hands of Wang, who has given no indication whatsoever that he plans to do anything other than run out the clock until the lease expires and then flee.
And finally, it was Brooks as President of the PWHA Rangers chapter who presided over the vote to boycott the NHL Awards voting due to the Islanders revoking credentials from Chris Botta. Although we should be thankful for that, as he proclaimed that Montreal rookie P.K. Subban had a better year than Michael Grabner. I guess Brooks has seen more Canadiens games than Islanders.
I realize it was tough being an Islanders fan this season. But take a look at the Islanders lineup for the second half of the home and home with the Rangers that Brooks mentions. The only difference between that "minor league lineup" and the team that finished the season was that they traded Dwayne Roloson, James Wisniewski, released Jon Sim, and Mark Eaton had a season ending injury. Out of those four, there are plenty of Islander fans who would argue that only Rollie was missed.
Seemingly the Islanders never heard the end of it about their payroll. While they were barely above the cap floor to start the season, the attempts were made to bring in big name FAs by overpaying them. But the Islanders can't win that game when other teams can offer the chance to be on an immediate contender (Vancouver landed Dan Hamhuis. Pittsburgh nabbed Paul Martin and Michalek). It also ignored the Islanders' situation of having a lot of ELC contracts on the top 3 lines, along with bargain deals like Frans Nielsen's and Andrew MacDonald's.
A New Media Age Leaving Brooks Behind
It's only been 6 months since Brooks called for Bettman to save the Islanders. Twenty years ago you could have gotten away with this. Unless someone saved the article, no one could have called out Brooks on this. Even then, what's the worse someone could have done? Write a letter to the editor no one would read? Post it on a dial up BBS that tops 100 people would see?
But that time has long passed. Everything Brooks writes now lasts forever online. All I'm really asking for is some recognition of his previous comments on the team. Maybe even an apology, or some admittance of error or change of heart. Instead what we get is more of Brooks surging ahead in complete ignorance to what he's previously written. No one is infallible. It might actually help readers relate to Brooks.
Newspapers are dying across the U.S. Supposedly the Post has been in the red the whole time Rupert Murdoch has owned it. It's articles like this that aren't helping things. You don't have to be a rah-rah cheer for the team person. But when you go over the top in heaving charges at an organization in a complete disconnect with reality, and then within half a year basically praise the same team for its astute planning, people who watch carefully are going to raise eyebrows.
Because it's a mainstream media outlet, suddenly you have people quoting the article and sharing it online to give the Islanders another black eye. Yet Brooks probably has as much insight to this Islanders team as someone writing about hockey in Columbus. It's fairly obvious he didn't watch this team given his opinion of Grabner's Calder nomination. While taking the time to look up the salaries of the Islanders on the ice to figure out the on ice payroll, it wouldn't have taken much more time to note that there were a lot of ELCs. Or that the Islanders got 53 points on the cheap from P.A. Parenteau while the Rags overpaid for Alexander Frolov to play the same position and get all of 16 points.
What was the master plan in Larry Brooks' mind anyway? That Wang was purposely destroying the Islanders? To what end? I don't think anyone would want to be remembered as "The guy who destroyed the Islanders," even if they did have a bone to pick with Hempstead Township. Wang wants the Islanders to be successful just as much as everyone else. He knows that winning brings in attendance. It also ignores that he has proven in the past that he is more then willing to open his wallet. Can you blame the guy for being a little gunshy after the Milbury years?
This might come as a shock to Brooks, but if there was some unidentified billionaire out there willing to buy the team and keep them in Long Island, I'm pretty sure they would have bought the team already. The Islanders were basically up for sale from the early '90s on. Charles Wang is probably the last stop on that wild ownership ride. Wang originally bought the team for $175 million. The team is currently valued by Forbes at $150 million. That's not considering the estimated $100-200 Million (on the low end of the estimates) lost by the team during his ownership, all the while Wang attempted to do what the County asked to create a new Coliseum. The only way he could come anywhere near recouping that lost value would be selling it to someone who would move the team, say to Quebec or Kansas City.
Wang has continued to spend money on the team; before the start of this season he spent a few million renovating the locker rooms. Despite some half-hearted attempts to appear willing to move, the intent has always been to stay on Long Island. Some people found it odd that Wang is willing to sign such a long term lease to stay in the (hopefully approved) new arena. But to Wang he probably believes that will be his legacy, keeping the team on Long Island. In the end, if successful it might be a bigger legacy then if the Islanders win the Cup again.
But no, no the league should have stepped in and stopped this guy.