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Ridiculous Idea #264 - Contract The Islanders

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Send Help! I'm being held against my will!
Send Help! I'm being held against my will!

With the lockout looming (thank you Bettman) everyone and their mother is throwing out ideas on how to fix the league. Today's brilliant idea comes from Michael Grange at SportsNet, who gives 5 easy steps to fix the league. Among them is the idea of contraction, which includes this gem about the Islanders:

On the other hand you have the New York Islanders, who could hold a rat rodeo in the bowels of the decrepit Nassau Coliseum and have taken John Tavares hostage.

I truly do not even know where to begin with that statement. Do you start with the ridiculous claim that Tavares is being held hostage? Or on the supposed "decrepit" Nassau Coliseum? Or how about the idea of contracting one of the most historic North American teams in the league?

I'm not saying that Nassau Coliseum is perfect, but most of the problems with it stem from two issues. It was designed and constructed in a period before luxury suites became as important as they are today. The Coliseum currently has 33 Luxury Suites, and I believe that number is after the Coliseum was retrofitted. The Coliseum doesn't have nearly the problems that the old Maple Leaf Gardens and Montreal Forum used to before they were replaced. The other issue is the lease, whose problems have been talked about plenty everywhere and don't need to be repeated here.

It's ironic though that he would choose to complain that Nassau Coliseum could hold a rat rodeo. The 2010 ESPN Vendor inspections showed that the Coliseum was one of the cleanest in the nation. Meanwhile 61% of MSG's vendors had critical violations, including a smattering of rat feces. I should mention that since this report, MSG has been renovated.

Holding JT Hostage

I didn't even have words when I read the line. I had to go back and re-read it to make sure it actually existed. The idea that the Islanders have any sort of leverage on John Tavares beyond the ability to match an offer sheet is silly. In 3 seasons with the Bruins, Phil Kessel had 126 points. Kessel also played a season of college hockey and was a year older then JT when he joined the league. In 3 seasons as an Islander, Tavares has 202 points. Brian Burke wanted Tavares so bad, the Islanders probably could have made a claim of tampering. The Islanders never could have matched a Toronto offer sheet. If Tavares wanted out, all he would have to do is wait till his rookie contract ran out and he was off to Toronto.

The Islanders have bent over backwards to keep JT happy. Could you imagine 18 year old JT asking Burke to sign his buddy Matt Moulson? The press up there would have had a field day with it. If the Leafs had drafted Tavares, the love affair with him would have ended during his rookie slump. If the Leafs continued to miss the playoffs even with Tavares on the team, the press would have been all over him.

Living in Long Island, not only does Tavares have easy access to visit NYC, but despite his impressive numbers he is doing it in a level of obscurity. There are no bright lights on JT, no press asking him questions about why he can't get the team over the hump into the playoffs. JT is also the most beloved Islander (that's not a goon) in 20 years, easy. I have yet to meet an Islander fan who has anything negative to say about him. There's a reason that JT signed an extension with the Islanders, and it probably helps that they aren't the Maple Leafs.

Contracting History

The Islanders are the last team in the four major North American professional sports to win their championship four straight times. (In fact, the number of NA sports franchises to ever win four straight titles, in total, is five: Boston Celtics, New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens, Cleveland Browns, New York Islanders. That's the whole list. Keep in mind that the four pro leagues have all existed at least 60+ years, and the oldest began play in the 19th century.) They are also the last team to make it to the finals/championship game for five straight years. They are the only U.S.-based team with a Dynasty in the NHL. They are also one of the few teams to ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in a 7 game series.

With a 3rd lockout looming under the Bettman regime, contracting the Islanders (heck - contracting ANY team) would be a huge black eye to the league and his term as commissioner. No Stanley Cup winning team has folded/contracted/moved since the Montreal Maroons in the 30s. Only one team that has gotten to the Stanley Cup Finals (without winning the Cup) has moved, the Minnesota North Stars.

You could argue that the Islanders have a much richer history than their Original Six crosstown rival, the Rangers. This despite the Rangers having nearly every advantage possible for them over the last 20 or so years, as compared to the economic struggles the Islanders have had to deal with. No league in their right mind would allow the Islanders to be contracted with the history they have. Even the loveable loser Cleveland Browns were saved for their history, despite having very few winning seasons in the modern NFL.

You can go back to any period in hockey history and say the league should retract teams. The Penguins infamously had a season in which they drew less fans then a lacrosse team that played in the Igloo during the 80s. Who can forget the horrible Red Wings teams of the 80s too? Or why not contract the Quebec Nordiques, you'd only lose one of the most fun teams to watch during the late 90s and early 00s.

Sports history is full of teams that have periods of greatness and periods of being bad. Very few teams can stay on top for a long time. Taking out today's loser is robbing everyone of tomorrow's stunning champion. Think of all the moments that might have been lost if the 80s Penguins were really contracted. I hate the Penguins but even I wouldn't wish that on any team's fanbase.

We're All Fans

Some Canadian writers seem to forget that hockey is popular south of the border. There are fans of hockey in Long Island, Florida, Atlanta, and Phoenix, just as there are fans in Quebec, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. It's wrong to punish fans because a greedy owner (or questionable commissioner) decided to sell the team to someone who wants to move it. Why is Jim Balsillie a bad guy for trying to move the Penguins and Predators, yet there are no bad guys when the Thrashers skip town?

Contracting teams is always going to hurt the NHL. It's going to chase away a rabid base of fans from somewhere. Does anyone think that people in Winnipeg weren't watching hockey for the last 20 years? There's going to be fans of hockey in most Canadian markets whether there is a team there or not. In the US and especially in the south you need a team there to keep people interested in hockey. Even in New York, it seems like most Islander fans would rather tune out then follow an NHL without their Islanders.

There's also the little problem that the NHLPA would never agree to contraction. Roughly 100 players would suddenly have to find not only a new team, but a new place to live. No Union would ever agree to purposely thin it's own numbers. Contraction would never fix anything, and in the long run would make the league seem minor league-ish.

One More Cheap Shot

It's hard -- no, make that impossible -- to get teary-eyed about the Dolan family (who own Madison Square Garden) sharing revenues. But then again, if I invested $1 billion to upgrade the building my teams played in, I can't see myself being thrilled at the notion of sharing the additional revenue generated with putzers like Charles Wang, who owns the Islanders.

Yup, that was a thing written by a professional sportswriter, who presumably has amazing, advanced resources that us regular schlubs do not.... say, Internet access to articles about the team you're pissing on; or, say, a way to read the message boards of the fanbase whose heart you propose to tear out like Mola Ram; hey, maybe a way to actually talk to the owner you're insulting.

I guess the rest of us have to use our brains, instead.

All of you have already heard all of the news about the sorry saga of replacing the Coliseum. Anyone would think, reading only Grange's delirium-fueled work here, that Charles Wang bought the Islanders at the depth of their problems, solely because he enjoyed it and wanted to see them continue to fail - only this time, with his own money. Brilliant!

Well, the facts just aren't there. For one thing, sharing additional revenue with the Islanders would be painfully easy - just rummage through your sofa cushions. John Spano has more money than the Isles have ever seen from revenue sharing. The next dime Wang sees from revenue sharing will be the first.

For another thing, Wang has tried in many ways to improve the team and level the economic playing field. He dumped a lot of money into payroll to bring aboard Alexei Yashin, Mike Peca, Adrian Aucoin, Roman Hamrlik, and sign Rick DiPietro. With the exception of the RDP contract, all of this took place before there was a salary cap or a floor to consider. He could have just done nothing if he liked. Instead, he tried to make the team competitive - in fact, they made four playoffs in five seasons, so he succeeded in doing so - and in an irony that apparently is too subtle for a professional sports reporter, Wang is routinely pilloried for the way those contracts turned out, with Yashin's buyout just now coming off the books and DiPietro's deal running until Skynet gains sentience and rains nukes down on us.

There's also the failed Referedum from last year, and before that at least two different proposals to build the Islanders a new Coliseum, both of which would have been funded whole and entire by Wang. The guy was going to do it all on his own nickel. One suspects that if the political kabuki between county and town finally ended, Wang would still do this, and have it done by the time the current backbreaking lease has run its course. Unless one is Michael Grange, of course, in which case, one doesn't care to consider that the Islanders have possibly the worst lease terms in the entire NHL, signed by an absentee, disinterested owner under circumstances that resemble today's sports economy about as much as any of us resemble Dr. Zoidberg.

Yeah, but other than that crap, the rest of it was only nonsense

Well, we've been concentrating on the barbs tossed the Islanders' way, but the rest of the article is kind of poor as well. The revenue sharing plan Grange proposes - no hard cap, a 100% luxury tax, and 10% of all league revenues set aside as bonus money for the Stanley Cup playoff teams - is particularly a problem. Making the playoffs is already a bonanza for clubs, thanks to higher ticket prices, near-guaranteed maximum attendance, and much lower post-season operating costs. Should the entire league, including the have-nots, tithe to the more successful clubs? How is that going to make them competitive or put them on even financial footing?

Is it because of the no-cap luxury tax? I don't know about that, either. It sounds very like a system that would result in certain teams simply spending opponents into oblivion instead of having to use any sort of team-building skill and know-how. In fact, that's exactly the result Granger foresees:

Major League Baseball has thrived in an era where iconic franchises have been empowered to behave accordingly; the NHL can learn from that. The Habs and the Leafs should be hockey's version of the Red Sox and the Yankees, shouldn't they?

No, dammit, they shouldn't. Nor should the Red Wings and Rangers, or Penguins and Canucks, or anyone else - not by just bludgeoning other clubs with a solid gold sledgehammer. But by all means, hit that jingo button a little harder, sir.

To top it all off, the only other thing he really offers is a cap on player contracts - four years, no more. And while that may be viscerally satisfying to fans continually frustrated by contracts that may outlast the life of the franchise that offered them, the truth is that this is yet another proposal that doesn't improve competitive balance or provide more opportunity to weaker clubs. It's a crutch that stops overeager teams from giving out bad deals.

Ask yourselves this: has a bad, long contract stopped any team yet from unloading any player? The Rangers found a taker for Scott Gomez, and in turn became the taker for Rick Nash. The Flyers found a taker for Jeff Carter, who themselves found a second taker for him less than six months afterward. Obviously it didn't scare Philly, who promptly offered Shea Weber a contract of such unbearable length and structure that surely no other team could possibly hope to afford... except that the Predators decided to afford it less than a week later. And if the time comes, is there any serious doubt that they'll find a taker for Weber's services? Even DiPietro's deal isn't the albatross anyone in the media seems to think: the Isles still have plenty of room to afford all the young talent they've been drafting for the past five years. His deal is only about 6.4% of the projected cap for next season.

Sure, but those deals may make the teams lose out on other players, right? RIGHT. And that's as it should be. If discipline and brains aren't enough for an owner to stop tossing around millions like tic-tacs, then so be it. They will eventually drop in the standings and lose money.

Do you want to know what's actually missing from the "fix the lockout" article you suffered through at SportsNet? Any idea on what the salary floor should be in relation to the ceiling. (Hint - think percentage, not absolute range.) Also missing is any thought on other player or owner concerns. It's just revenue sharing, cap contract length, kill a couple of teams. The end. Grange somehow gets "five" steps out of that three-pronged plan, so he'll have to understand if I'm dubious on the rest of his math.

(Although this has my name on it, it had valuable input and additions from everyone else at LHH - Mark D)