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Saskatoon welcomes the Islanders

Oh come now -- not "welcomes" in that way.

As teased here the other day, now given real legs via the local paper (official announcement is expected Monday), the Islanders will do a stretch of training camp in Saskatoon in September. The Islanders had been doing this in Moncton, N.B., where former coach Ted Nolan had ties.


(Conversation vie email with a Saskatchewan local the other day, who tipped me off: "Are the Islanders doing training camp in Saskatoon?" Me: "Um, I don't know. Are the Islanders doing training camp in Saskatoon?" Local: "That's what I heard." Me: "Oh, I am SO connected." Seriously, though: Thanks, you know who you are.)

Details are in Saskatoon's Star Phoenix, where their version of the Islanders logo arrived by carrier pigeon. This is big news there, and the person I corresponded with tells me it will be exciting, on the eve of the area hosting the WJC no less.

Two things in the story stand out:

Pending UFA and currently IR'd Mike Sillinger -- the guy reporters would want for the local angle -- talking as if he'll be back next year:

Sillinger, a Regina product, said Friday that he’s eager to return to the building where he helped Canada win world-junior gold in 1991. ...

... “It’s close to home,” said Sillinger. “I wonder if I’m going to have to fly to New York and fly back again.”

This is a PR thing. The paper wants the local connection, and he's currently on the team, so they'll treat it as such even though there is every reason to wonder whether he'll be re-signed -- if still playing at all, given his hip issues.

Second, in light of all the Kansas City buzz, an unhappy reminder of another time:

“Saskatoon almost had an NHL team, didn’t they?” added Sillinger, referring to Bill Hunter’s failed bid to move the St. Louis Blues here in 1983.

As some readers may know, I'm of St. Louis stock yet was wooed by hockey (and the Isles) during the Islanders' dynasty years. An unhappy, locked-away memory of those times was when Ralston-Purina, the distressed owner of the Blues (was it just Ralston then? The corporate iterations blur over time), very nearly let the club move north. At the 11th hour, Harry Ornest bought them, introduced the regrettable red to their color scheme, and maintained a Joey Mullen-dumping, Jacques Demers-walking shoestring budget. But at least he saved them.

The point is the Blues remained then, when the situation looked much worse. If I had to sum up my impressions of the Islanders-K.C. talk now, it'd be: The market doesn't make sense, the financial climate doesn't make sense (for a new owner), only the building and one very connected NHL figure makes sense. So the Isles will be fine. But before stability, there will be much more drama, which is apparently necessary to get things done.