from Neil Best of Newsday,
The fact that Horvat was up for signing an eight-year contract extension worth a reported $68 million said a lot about how the Islanders are viewed these days.
Yes, money talks. It always does. Horvat needed to know he was wanted where it counts most.
But he was under no obligation to stay beyond the end of this season and could have commanded similar money elsewhere.
He decided to stay, and immediately was paired with Mathew Barzal, another in-his-prime star who signed an eight-year deal worth $73.2 million that kicks in next season.
Both contracts are set to expire at the end of 2030-31.
So, to review, the Islanders’ top two skaters are a guy who decided to come and a guy who decided to stay.
For some franchises, that would not be a big deal.
Neil Best is a longtime Newsday columnist. Not the beat writer - but someone who is very aware of the pro sports scene.
But he is correct. LI used to be a horrible place to attract free agents. And what made it worse to this 30 year + Season Ticket subscription holder is this - the excuses that were foisted upon us all those years. "It's the Building"..... that one was the killer one.
It was not the building. Detroit always got good players to go there. The Joe Louis Arena was a slightly better version of Nassau Coliseum (to be fair - I have been to exactly one game at the Joe). Yet. did not free agents flock there? We would get the leftovers (See Ladd, Andrew) at higher cap hits and term than market value.
It's not the practice facility. For example - the Ranger$ practice in a town about 25 to 30 miles from MSG. Most of the players live near there. How does that differ from the Islanders? The Islanders practice rinks were always not too far where the team lived and worked - much closer than the Garden. So it's not that.
ITS ALL ABOUT WINNING for sure. It's all about a strong ownership. This group is very good. And they are getting things that were not so great about UBS last year - it's turned around.
It's about a strong management team. Now until a week or two ago - Isles fans were ready to show Lou the door. At last night's game - fans were WOWED. Dialing back on that. Honestly, I think last night's game was the best they played at UBS Arena in the 2+ years it's been open.
It's about the players. These guys are all for one and one for all. Until the trade - there was talk about the "country club' aspect of it coming back (Dwayne Roloson used that term during the early John Tavares/Kyle Okposo years) - but the trade took care of that.
I think the Island got a bad rap. Most teams would fly in the night before - stay at the Long Island Marriott (directly across the parking lot of the Coliseum) morning skate - nap - game and OUT. Most of the players never got to see the Island. The Ranger$ players mostly live in suburban Westchester County and practice there - yet free agents wanted to go there - no material difference except for the main arena. Like Westchester - Nassau County has some lovely areas - TOP rated public schools and these areas are in close proximity to the practice facility and much closer to the UBS Arena - even so with the building now in Elmont. Much easier than the Ranger$ players commuting to MSG for a home game. I bet they stay in hotels for a nap before a game close to MSG - I would not know.
Many players live in Garden City. 5 to 10 min. drive to practice. TOP schools, wealthy zip code - lots to do in terms of restaurants - and if you want to go to Manhattan for a show - 40 mins on the rail.
For Michigan - which I don't know as well - it reminds me of the town called Birmingham MI where the Townsend Hotel is - used to stay there on business and found that area to be just like Garden City - or if not Birmingham - one or two of the other towns in the area are comps.
I am hopeful that this trend continues for the Isles - it makes a ton of sense to me. Committed ownership. It starts there. There is no John Spano, Mike Milbury or Charles Wang to mess things up anymore. Real deal. If you go to the Arena - you can see it's serious business. And they are building retail and hotel complex south of the racetrack that will add to the venue.
Other teams have some valuable advantages the Isles do not have (Weather, state tax free states like TN and FL, other intangibles) but compare Bo Horvat signing to Ryan Smyth not signing and you can see the difference.
I think you are spot on with a lot of your observations. Players really want to go to a team they know is at least motivated to win. That ownership and management are on the same page and willing to do what it takes to build a consistent winner. Older players might gravitate towards a team that is ready to compete for a Cup "now" and younger players might look at a longer window but the goal is the same, a winning organization above almost anything else. The money will likely be the same from place to place.
One factor I think gets overlooked too much and I think you've pointed it out, is what the location has to offer in regards to keeping spouses happy and children in a good situation. That means good choice of school, places to live that meet their lifestyle, weather, etc. There are some spouses that simply don't want to deal with Edmonton weather. There are some athletes that don't want to be in a city without a major international airline hub (ie Columbus, Nashville).
There's a lot at play here but typically winning teams can entice more than anything.
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