Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Jon Jordan on 11/16/10 at 03:19 PM ET
For someone like me, who has covered the Tampa Bay Lightning for several seasons now, there has never been any shortage of rant-worthy material. The squabbles of previous ownership, atrocious on-ice performances, incessant (and often nonsensical) Vinny Lecavalier trade rumors and the curious case of Brian Lawton, if nothing else, made subject matter for the blog, wherever it has called home, easy to come by.
Starting with Steven Stamkos’ rise to NHL stardom last season and continuing with the breath of fresh air that new Lightning management has been, positive pieces have been writing themselves as well with increasing frequency.
All of this for me, of course, comes without any fan attachment, as I’ve never really had any rooting interest in the team to which I’ve been assigned by default. (I just sort of live here and have been able to eat a meal or two thanks to my hockey-related opinions being entertaining enough for someone to facilitate as much.) Granted, it’s far more pleasant to be around a team when they’re doing well so, maybe somewhere deep down, that’s what someone in my position might prefer but, really, so far as the Bolts go, I’ve always been of the take ‘em or leave ‘em mindset.
Whether they’re winning or not, however, doesn’t change the fact that I’ve grown quite comfortable on this particular beat – far more so, even than my first official go-round at this blogging thing, when I wrote, mostly for fun, about my childhood favorite New York Islanders. You see, I think that might be something that’s always played to my advantage with Tampa – there’s no fan mindset to skew my vision and little emotional attachment to provide any real blinders. (It’s also probably what’s helped find me trouble on occasion but that’s a story for another day.)
Today, instead, I step away from my local comfort zone and go back to those Long Island roots because, sometimes, you just can’t sit idly by.
And as I do just that, I’m reminded that I’m probably better off these days.
Initially, I’d somehow tricked myself into thinking that I was surprised by the firing of Scott Gordon yesterday, until I remembered exactly who we were dealing with here:
A franchise that could field, not one, but probably three all-star teams of former players and prospects.
A franchise that has one “franchise player” drawing a multi-million dollar paycheck for another four seasons after this one, despite last dressing for the team in 2007 and drawing another professional salary to play in Russia, and another on the books until 2021 (when flying cars are sure to be all the rage) who is a shell of his former self.
A franchise that calls home an arena, politely dubbed “antiquated”, that is an NHL dinosaur. (Think more brontosaurus, less T-Rex, by the way.)
A franchise that has pushed its fans to the breaking point time and time and time (and time) again and plays in front of embarrassing crowds regularly.
A franchise that has become so irrelevant in its own market that it takes an asinine move such as yesterday’s for merely a mention on the back page of the only local paper that assigns a full-time writer to the team beat.
A franchise that has had eleven coaches since its last sniff of real success but just three general managers in that time (one for over a decade, one for a little over a month and the current one, who may or may not still be on the club’s goaltending depth chart).
A franchise, beyond everything else, that has not won a single playoff series in seventeen years.
And we’ve only just scratched the surface of their futility.
Any elaboration on the seven “points of pride” for the franchise I’ve just pointed out would probably serve as a smack to the faces of whatever Isles fans are left and that’s not my aim here.
Instead, shame on the New York Islanders organization for letting it all get this far.
The dismissal of Gordon is not a move in itself to completely abandon ship for those still sailing on the S.S. Wang but it does serve as the latest sign that this particular vessel has no charted course, no tangible destination and no captain capable of safely transporting its passengers back to dry land. This seventeen-year journey continues and how those of you that have continued to go round and round on board aren’t dizzy to the point of vomiting by now is beyond me.
I’m down here in the sunshine and it makes me ill just thinking about it.
But it doesn’t stop there.
In my time covering the Bolts, I’ve crossed paths with several individuals who have some tie or another to the Islander organization from years past and I’ve heard the same sentiments – a combination of sickness and sadness – to varying degrees from the mouths of some and seen it in the eyes of others any time the once-proud franchise is the topic of conversation.
Further, what most have long surmised is almost unilaterally true in NHL circles, by my observations. This franchise is a laughingstock by the very definition of the word, whether you choose to accept it or not. The butt of jokes. The dunce in the corner. The NHL’s clown.
Yes, they have amassed some impressive young talent. Of course, John Tavares tops that list. Josh Bailey, Blake Comeau, Kyle Okposo and several others make for a potentially formidable supporting cast. But, as one NHL executive told me rather bluntly recently, “In seventeen years, you would think they’d find some success by accident.”
Somehow, on the Island, that just doesn’t happen, with a few negligible exceptions.
The 2001-02 season was a special one that seemed to signal a long-awaited resurgence for the franchise. Sadly, a grueling first round, seven-game playoff loss to Toronto that year was the high point of that expected budding success.
A book, Fishsticks: The Fall and Rise of the New York Islanders, by Alan Hahn and Peter Botte was penned then, at what seemed like the appropriate time to celebrate the outgoing dark years and the bright days ahead.
But two consecutive first round exits followed and then-coach Peter Laviolette took the fall in the interim (before, in what seemed like a natural course of events, going on to lead the Carolina Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup just two seasons later).
The Isles missed the playoffs the year of the ‘Canes championship before a cameo appearance in the 2006-07 campaign under Ted Nolan – a 4-1 opening round defeat at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres.
And then? Back to the status quo: No playoffs the following three seasons and exit Nolan.
A ten-game losing streak this year and exit Gordon.
Laughable, really, especially when you re-consider the whole no playoff series wins in seventeen years thing and a grand total of six individual playoff game wins in that time frame.
26 postseason games in the last 17 years and a 6-20 record therein.
When’s that Fishsticks sequel planned anyway?
With four head coaches out the door in the seven woeful seasons since the original, there has to be enough for ten more chapters or so.
But the man behind the bench doesn’t seem to matter in Uniondale. The only people that do, it seems, are the owner and general manager (and maybe a few others in the inner circle) who somehow, after canning their latest coach, must think they’ll come out the winners in all of this eventually and who have each done nothing but perpetuate a culture of failure in their respective tenures.
Charles Wang has been better than previous owners, at least when you consider that he has avoided jail time, made payroll consistently and kept the power on at the old barn. Aside from that… What success has there been? And isn’t that what it’s all about?
And Garth Snow, fresh out of the crease, will always be able to look right past the blink-and-he’s-gone run of predecessor Neil Smith (who looks like a genius for fleeing when he did) and see that, compared to “Mad” Mike Milbury, he’ll still come out looking okay, at worst. Remember, after all, it was Snow who masterminded the acquisition of Ryan Smyth in ’07, which yielded all of five playoff games and one win, as compared to Milbury, who traded the likes of Todd Bertuzzi, Olli Jokinen, Roberto Luongo, Bryan McCabe and others in exchange for well, whatever, during his reign of terror. (Win: Snow.)
The fans are the undisputed losers here – for seventeen straight years now – and that’s long been the worst part of it all, since there will always be a core group there on Long Island that won’t shun this organization no matter what, crazy as they are.
But is there anything to say they won’t continue to get shafted? Because nothing seems to work for the Islanders.
The present situation, obviously, doesn’t bode well for interim head coach Jack Capuano, who was quoted on his employer’s own Twitter feed as saying, “It’s not the best situation to be in but I will do the best I can.” Sounds like he’s been paying attention, the poor guy.
Forget about the best situation – it hasn’t even been acceptable in almost two decades.
When the Lightning visit the Islanders on Wednesday, I’ll probably shed a symbolic tear for my old pals still pulling mightily (against their better judgment) for the orange and blue as I watch from afar.
And while the beat goes on for the Islanders (and the beatdowns for the fans on Long Island), I’ll appreciate the lack of torment in my current role of impartial observer that much more.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.
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