As a sports fan, I am fairly easy to appease. I have been bludgeoned bye losing for decades. The only sports teams I truly care about won championships when I was a wee child. I carry a healthy understanding that sports, though they be big business, are a pretty meaningless diversion not worth fighting or spilling beer over. I know 20+ teams in every league fall well short every year.
Entertain me, and I’ll feel entertained.
But ye gods, man. The Islanders have a passionate fanbase and a hardly over-critical media contingent, yet they seem to keep ticking those groups off.
The statement read by owner Jon Ledecky on Monday was “strongly worded” but fell short for many, particularly without further elaboration. A charitable reading would call it a “now’s not the time, but the time is coming” statement. For example, the “our season has just ended line” sounded like an appeal to wait until they’ve figured out what they want to do next.
Many more have taken it as a “you just punted, again, and if you even are going to do something you still have no idea what it is.”
It talked about aiming for long-term success, admitting failure, and evaluating “all aspects of our hockey operations” before making decisions.
Watch it here for full effect, or read in full:
“We are committed to long-term success. Any decisions we make are for the long-term success of our hockey club. We win and lose together as an organization, not as individuals. Missing the playoffs is beyond disappointing. At the same time, we believe we have a strong core of players that will be the basis for our success on the ice. Obviously, our definition of long-term success is competing for a Stanley Cup and eventually winning a fifth ring.
“Our season has just ended and as an organization, we will be evaluating all aspects of our hockey operations. Then we will make decisions on what is best for the future of our club. I am not here today to talk about any specific individuals, including players, coaches, and the general manager. We believe it is essential to our success to have a thoughtful evaluation process, to look at the past and, more importantly, assess the future of our team on and off the ice.
“As for the past season, as owners, we have failed. We sincerely apologize to our fans. We want to express that our ownership group is totally committed to winning and providing the resources to do just that.”
On Tuesday they sent a statement aimed directly at fans that mentioned many of the same themes but also added...that the Cup drought long predates them, essentially, and hey don’t forget they secured the long-sought new arena for us?
Again, charitably read: Maybe with the “many, many years since” they’re just saying “we recognize it’s been a long time and you’re carrying a lot of pain and frustration.” But in the current environment it feels like a reminder that they inherited this mess (so give them time to fix it?).
Maybe the nod to Belmont is to: 1) focus on the one clear bright spot in the future (we think), while also 2) reminding us that without this ownership group, the Isles are in the same old homeless, futureless state — or maybe Seattle — they’ve been in for two decades. (i.e. “We’ve put in a lot of our money and political clout into this, can you give us a minute or a thank you?”)
And sure, they saved this franchise from bargain-bin hell, relocation or worse. They put their eye on the main goal: Securing a long-term home. They opened their wallets to fund the team and trusted in hockey people to do the hockey. But it’s going to be an unhappy tenure if they fail to understand where the reactions are coming from right now, and why it goes beyond “we have very passionate fans.”
This cannot be fun for Ledecky right now. They have major issues (the awkward arena transition, the franchise star’s free agency, the billboards reflecting how many fans want their GM fired), and no doubt they do truly want what’s best for the long term. As Ledecky said in the happier days, they are “stewards” of the franchise for whoever buys it from them in 20 years or so.
And they are far from the first ownership to come into a new situation guns ablazin’ and thrilled to polish up the new toy, only to stumble as the on-ice product falls short of off-ice talk and aspirations.
While I would’ve argued it best for them to come out yesterday and at least say with more directness, more grasp of the moment, something like: “We are evaluating Snow and expect specific improvements if he’s retained, we have a plan for with or without Tavares, we...” ... at this point it’s probably best for them to say no more.
Just go do your evaluations. Take stock of the season (if you haven’t already?!), the last five years (look closely around the league), the fan and media reactions from the last week, and what better options are out there...then let us know when you’ve decided on a plan*.
‘Cause right now it’s almost like everyone needs a timeout.
*and by the way: if that plan is in anyway still the status quo, be prepared for lots of explaining, and lots of continued disbelief from the customers and chroniclers.