First, a truth: teams sell merchandise to make money. Somewhere back in the history of professional sport, someone figured out that the fans who pay to get into games wanted to dress like the players playing in them. In time, hats and shirts and jackets and jerseys started appearing on store shelves and helped line the pockets of the already rich owners and leagues.
So the Islanders' decision to re-market their previously excommunicated fisherman logo isn't an act of pure nostalgia. If they project making more money selling the items than they will spend producing them, they'll sell them.
A few weeks ago the team announced that a "modernized" version of the jersey will be worn by the Islanders during warm-ups before a game this year and later auctioned off to charity. Today, they tweeted that fisherman merch is now available in the team store for the first time since they hit the clearance racks in 1997.
The idea to break the fisherman out of mothballs is a significant and interesting one. Almost twenty years after he was hastily thrown overboard by a panicked ownership group, someone walked into an Islanders marketing meeting and suggested resurrecting the fisherman. As my friend and Lighthouse Hockey commentor Keith Dallas said, "whoever is running the team store is either insanely courageous or courageously insane."
That logo represents a time when the Islanders were falling apart at the seams. An attempt to separate the franchise from its dynasty era and pay tribute to native Long Islanders was so instantly and vociferously lambasted that within months, ownership was making plans to get rid of it. After just two seasons, the fisherman was buried at sea. Unfortunately, the same talent-deficient team wearing them remained, as did the insults and laughter which persist to this day.
Hawking the fisherman means the Islanders, a famously tight-lipped and buttoned-up organization, are ready to face their demons. They're prepared to say, "yes, yes you hated it, but we wore it then and you can wear it now."
Not every fan is on board with this. Some (a lot?) are going to recoil in horror as a nightmare from their past comes back to life. Others are happy to once again get a chance to buy Islanders stuff with the logo they remember from their youth, and possibly the first Islanders crest they saw at a game. The ratios of one faction to another don't matter because it will probably change every day as long as the items are out there.
During their final season at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders won't be hurting for publicity. Newsday just ran a 44-page special section on the final home opener in Uniondale which was roughly 43-and-a-half pages longer than the home opener coverage from last season. They would probably see a bump in merchandise sales regardless.
Instead of sitting on what they have, the Islanders are sticking their necks out and trying to turn a negative into a positive (which will then again turn into money). A logo they couldn't run away from fast enough is now a featured product in their official store. They're encouraging fans to buy and wear merchandise from one of the darkest, most depressing, most embarrassing, most collectively forgotten eras in their history.
Why? Because it's still their history.
Personally, I'm not in a rush to buy any of the new stuff. I think my old dark blue fisherman jersey or my white Ziggy Palffy one are still somewhere in my parents' house. I prefer to either be current with my Islanders stuff or reach back to the expansion era, dynasty or the post-dynasty to Pre-Kirk Muller eras.
But I appreciate the spirit and chutzpah the Islanders are showing by bringing back the fisherman. Different players and stages of the franchise hold different meanings to different people. Putting the fisherman stuff right next to the John Tavares jerseys and mini replica Stanley Cup banners is a bold and fun way of honoring the team's complete 43-year existence. Even the parts that don't necessarily deserve to be honored.