Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Joe Tasca on 08/03/11 at 01:59 AM ET
As a radio personality, I’m used to hearing people accuse the media of deliberately stirring the pot. It’s a common complaint, and a difficult one to refute, especially when you read columns like the one written today by Damien Cox regarding the future of the New York Islanders.
As you know, the Islanders’ request to bond money for a new arena was decisively shot down by the voters of Nassau County on Monday. According to Cox, the vote result was a clear indication of Long Island’s disdain for the team’s owner, Charles Wang:
It’s hard for an owner to become this toxic in a community, but Wang seems to have accomplished that. Fans won’t come to his team’s games — the average attendance of 11,059 was worst in the NHL last season — and the manner in which he has operated the club — signing Rick DiPietro to a 15-year contract, hiring a university to do radio broadcasts of the team’s games, selecting the team’s backup goalie to be the new general manager — has alienated many hardcore supporters….
Wang needs to excuse himself from the picture. The NHL may or may not work any longer on Long Island, but it certainly can’t work with him as the owner.
It blows my mind to see how Cox makes such outlandish claims without offering a shred of credible evidence to support his argument. There’s nothing wrong with questioning some of Wang’s personnel decisions over the years. All owners in professional sports are criticized when their teams are unsuccessful for long periods of time. But to say Wang has become “toxic” because his club has been a laughingstock for most of his 11-year tenure is ludicrous.
Although Cox says he’s alienated many long-time fans, the fact of the matter is Charles Wang saved hockey on Long Island. Virtually any Islander fan would tell you that the Islanders would have flown the coup long ago if Wang had not bought the team in 2000.
The Islanders’ ownership woes in those days were well-documented. The club was coming off a bizarre and embarrassing saga involving John Spano, a Dallas businessman who bought the team from then-owner John Pickett before being exposed as a fraud. Pickett eventually found a legitimate ownership group led by Howard Milstein and Steven Gluckstern, who ran the team on a shoestring budget, resulting in some unpopular trades that decimated the roster.
While the Islanders have not had much success under Wang’s watch, the man has provided the franchise with an element of stability it didn’t have in the late 90’s. Wang bought a team nobody else wanted, and his commitment to Long Island has been unabashed despite considerable political opposition to his privately-funded Lighthouse project several years ago, and his latest arena bonding plan.
Cox makes a snide comment about the Islanders’ poor attendance, somehow linking that low number to Wang’s ownership. It’s a horrid attempt to draw a correlation that simply doesn’t exist. Hockey fans don’t care, and most don’t know, who owns their favorite team. The sorry attendance at Nassau Coliseum can be blamed solely on the club’s recent on-ice struggles, which have stemmed largely from financial restrictions beyond Wang’s control.
Charles Wang has done just about everything he can to keep the Islanders afloat financially, while simultaneously trying to ice a competitive team. He opened up his pocketbook back in 2001 and orchestrated a brief renaissance after picking up some top notch players (Yashin, Peca, Osgood, Aucoin). Unfortunately, the Islanders were unable to sustain any level of success after the lockout, and the club has since engaged on a rebuilding project that is now on the verge of bearing some fruit.
Wang has said he’s lost around $240 million dollars during his ownership tenure. Yet he still wants to keep the team on Long Island. Does that sound like a man who is considered toxic in the community?
Sure, there are some Islander fans who don’t agree with the way Charles Wang has run the team. With that said, Bruin fans had been calling for Jeremy Jacobs’ head for years because of their repeated failures in the playoffs. Magically, that chorus has been silenced. I guess winning does cure all ills.
In that regard, the Islanders have been sick for quite some time. But as I alluded to earlier, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Although Damien Cox lists the hiring of Garth Snow as general manager as one of Wang’s countless mistakes, the former goaltender has done an admirable job of building a young, up-tempo hockey club with a steady veteran presence that may very well challenge for a playoff spot next season.
Even though the arena referendum was rejected, Chris Botta of Islanders Point Blank believes Charles Wang will find a way to work out a deal that will keep the club in Nassau County after 2015. Only time will tell. Either way, you can bet that Wang will do everything in his power to make sure the Islanders remain Long Island’s only professional sports team.
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