Saturday, July 3, 2010

Islanders must get off the (salary) floor — with Kovalchuk?

In yesterday's post I talked about wanting to see the Islanders spend a little above the salary floor. Then I thought, "That's easy for you to say, Mr. Moneybags, spending Charles Wang's hard-earned cash like that."

So I decided to crunch the numbers and try and determine how much I more I want the team to spend, and what would need to happen to cover that extra investment. It's a good thing I like math.

The NHL salary cap in 2010-22 is $59.4 million, with a salary floor of $43.4 million. According to, the Islanders have almost $32.5 committed for next season, leaving them $11 million below the floor.

I'd like them to spend more, but how much more can we realistically ask? Halfway to the cap is $51.4 million, but there is no way that the Islanders would crack the $50 million mark, for psychological reasons alone.

What about $48 million? That’s not quite $5 million above the floor, enough to sign an impact free agent, either a scorer or a first-line defenseman. That would mean the Islanders would have $16 million to spend before the season starts, on free agents or re-signing players. You could do some damage with $16 million.

The Islanders must spend the floor, so we're asking Mr. Wang to cough up an extra $5 million. Presumably that money would add talent and make the team more successful, and more wins equals more fans, right? So how many more fans would need to show up at the Coliseum to cover that extra investment?

Last season the Isles drew an average of 12,735 to home games, or 78.1 percent of capacity. That put them 29th in the league in average attendance and 27th overall in percent of capacity.

The average ticket price last year was about $51.50 (I hear the prices are going up, but we'll use that figure). To get an extra $5 million, the Islanders would need to sell 97,000 more tickets, or about 2,400 per home game.

Assuming attendance this year would otherwise be about the same next season, those extra tickets would boost average attendance to 15,135, or 92.8 percent of capacity. Those figures would place the Islanders 21st in average attendance, or 20th in percent capacity.

In other words, we're not asking for much in terms of an attendance boost. It's not as if the Isles would need to sell out every game to cover that extra payroll expense. We'd just need the attendance to go from pathetic to slightly below average. Aim high!

That doesn't factor in that the Islanders' new sub-lease gives them more money from parking and concessions, or the fact that the team is benefitting from controlling all events at the Coliseum, including concerts.

Mo' money, mo' money, mo' money.

Which is to say, the Islanders in 2010-11 are in a much better revenue-generating position than they were when the 2009-10 season started.

So it is really that much to ask them to spend a little more on talent, knowing that they're going to make more money anyway, and that a better team will almost certainly produce enough of an attendance increase to justify the expense? And could you imagine if the team actually made the playoffs?

Of course, the easiest way to get off the floor — and draw more fans — is to spend $10 million a year on someone like, oh, Ilya Kovalchuk. And on Friday night, the news (rumors) started breaking that the Isles were pursuing Kovalchuk with the Kings. Then Snow confirmed the interest with Newsday.

Seems that Wang things a big gun like Kovalchuk would help push the Lighthouse forward or get some kind of deal done. And he's not been shy about big contracts for a marquee player.

Kovalchuk would certainly add a serious weapon, take pressure off Tavares and Moulson, and put fannies in the seats. Presumably, it would help the team win more games, creating the kind of juice that could ultimately help Wang get something close to what he wants regarding the Lighthouse.

Or maybe that's too much to ask.

Realistically, the Islanders don't even need A-list free agents. They don't need any "name" players to build marketing around because we already have Tavares, Okposo, Bailey, Weight and (if he ever sees the ice again) DiPietro. What the team does need is legitimate NHL talent to fill its needs, particularly a top-line defenseman and a top-six forward.
This team is getting close. There is lots of young talent here and the coaching and front office are on the right track with a plan. The fans are ready to see the team take the next step.

Kovalchuk would be one hell of a step.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Free agent frenzy doesn't visit Long Island

While the rest of the free world stands vigil awaiting the decision made by LeBron James as to where to next collect his basketball millions, NHL fans are themselves geared up for the silly season.

The free agency period began July 1 and there was a landslide of activity.

But not on Long Island.

Islanders fans have come to learn that when the clock strikes midnight on the first day of free agency, that it doesn't pay to stay up late. Or even scour the headlines the next morning. Or the following day, for that matter. Because when it comes to free agents — at least the marquee ones — the Islanders aren't interested.

And you wonder if the feeling is mutual.

A year ago, I suggested in my wish list post that the Isles go out and get Mike Cammalleri, Maxim Afinogenov and Mike Komisarek. Cammelleri lit it up for the Canadiens, Afinogenov scored 24 goals for Atlanta (and could be bound for Russia this season), and hometown boy Komisarek... well, he had a forgettable year in Toronto. Hey, two out of three ain't bad. (Maybe now the Isles can get him cheap?)

The Islanders could sure use a veteran defenseman, and in the day one free agent frenzy, we saw Paul Martin sign with Pittsburgh, and Lou Lamoriello countered by inking Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder for a combined $39 million.

Think the Isles are spending that kind of dough? News flash: Ilya Kovalchuk isn't coming to Hempstead.

No, Garth Snow has resigned himself to picking through the bargain bin, although he has come up big in the past. Mark Streit wasn't an unknown commodity in Montreal, but he has stepped up his game on Long Island, so that was a huge win for Snow.

The only activity on the Islanders' ledger has been in the 'lost' column, as Martin Biron will now back up for the Rangers, and Jeff Tambellini (whose bags have been likely packed for months), is now in Vancouver.

The Islanders won't snap anyone up. Instead, they'll let the crumbs fall to them and pick out the biggest ones (or at least not the smallest.)

So who will end up here? Maybe they'll re-sign Andy Sutton to provide some size again in the back; at least he liked it here and we liked him. There's been buzz about signing UFA Eric Nystrom, a Syosset boy whose dad played here some years ago. Not an impact player, but he could provide some jam. (UPDATE: He signed with Minnesota. Missed that. Oh, well.)

After that it's anyone's guess. Like last year, I'd love to see the Islanders spend some cash and bring in someone who can score. Matt Moulson was a terrific find but let's face it, Snow got lucky. No one saw 30 goals coming from him. So if the Isles can bring in someone else to help out Moulson and Tavares and Okposo and Bailey and Weight, then I'm all for it.

Alexander Frolov, anyone? Yeah, right.

Beyond the names, can we at least see the Islanders — who are now just raking in the cash with Islanders Entertainment — take a couple of steps above the salary floor?

We know the Lighthouse isn't happening. But at some point, while building for the future — and Snow so far has not wavered from that plan — you have to give the present team and its fans something to, you know, come to the building for other than a glimpse of what could be in a couple of seasons.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Islanders roll the dice with Kabanov, Niederreiter

Steals? Risks? Gambles? We won't know for some time whether the moves the New York Islanders made at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft will help or hurt the team, but we do know one thing for sure:

They lead the league in guys named 'Kirill.'

Two years after taking Kirill Petrov in the third round of the 2008 draft, the Isles went to Russia again in the third round and selected Kirill Kabanov in what could be the steal of the draft, considering Kabanov had been ranked as high as the top three in the draft class within the past year, and 15th at the midterm.

So what happened to the 17-year-old scorer? Rumors of drinking, getting dropped by the Russian national team as well as his agent, problems with his team in Moncton, and an injured wrist conspired to sink his reputation as well as his draft standing. The Isles grabbed him at 65th overall, figuring they had to take a player with that kind of talent.

And he has talent, in spades. He also has moxie, as shown in his post-draft interview when he promised that he wouldn't let the Isles or their fans down. We'll see. The kid's 17. But the draft is a crapshoot, and you can't leave skills like Kabanov's on the table at No. 65.

As for first-round pick Nino Niederreiter, I had a feeling the Islanders would go for a forward. Can't say I saw Nino coming.

The day before the draft, I re-Tweeted something my man B.D. Gallof said about what the Isles would do at No. 5. B.D. predicted that the Islanders would go with a forward with their first pick, adding, "As Ricky Roma once said: "If everyone thinks one thing, then I say, bet the other way."

Hey, anyone who drops a "Glengarry Glen Ross" reference in a tweet is aces in my book. And I agreed that even though the Isles lack size on defense, they have some young, talented blueliners in Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan. Why not get some more help up front and give John Tavares some players to work with?

But instead of Brett Connolly (who went one pick later to Tampa Bay — you wonder if Stevie Y was rubbing his hands together with glee), the Islanders went with Niederreiter, who shined for Switzerland at the World Junior Championships, as well as with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, scoring 36 goals in his rookie season. The 18-year-old center has mad skills (witness his one-handed goal) and let's face it, the Isles need more juice on offense.

Trading two picks to move up and take Brock Nelson at No. 30 was bold, but Garth Snow has shown that he'll make the move to get the guy he wants. Nelson is big and will get bigger at North Dakota. The Islanders added more size with Jason Clark later in the third round, and finally got a defenseman with Tony DeHart in the fifth round. DeHart paired with de Haan at Oshawa.

I refuse to give out a draft grade. These are 17- and 18-year-olds. Who knows how they'll pan out? But it certainly looks like the Islanders came away with some talented and potentially exciting players, who could give us fans plenty to cheer about in the coming seasons.

What about this season? With the July 1 free agent period just days away, the Isles will be in a position to fill some of their more immediate holes. One request — can we get UFA Eric Nystrom on this team? I'm sure his dad will allow him to wear No. 23.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Meet me at the ... place ... somewhere on Long Island ... maybe

I've been trying to generate some feelings -- vitriol, despair, disgust, frustration -- over the latest developments concerning the Lighthouse, but I just can't do it. It's like trying to light a fire with a wet match and a cinder block. I'm done.

We heard from Chris Botta at Fanhouse that the Wilpons, owners of the Mets, had hired a high-powered project management firm to "work on a feasability study" for a new arena at Willets Point, adjacent to Citi Field. Newsday then followed up with the predictable denials from sources. Our friend B.D. Gallof compared the whole thing to a scene from the movie "M.A.S.H." which served to plant the theme song from the TV version in my head for a few hours. Thanks, buddy.

For me -- and, I suspect, most Islanders fans -- the drama has become tiresome. I'm done with the Town of Hempstead, and the politics, and the hand-wringing over whether the Isles are going to move to Queens, or Hartford, or Winnipeg, or Kansas City, or Brooklyn, or Yaphank, or Paris, Texas.

I'd be done with Charles Wang, too, except he hasn't said a word in months. At least he's not been annoying.

The Lighthouse Project has been all but disbanded and Hempstead has yet to provide new zoning for the property, or any guidance as to how Wang's proposal needs to be pared down. The general feeling is that it would have to be cut down considerably. Maybe Wang would be OK with that, maybe not.

Wang still has incentive to stay at the Coliseum. The revised lease agreement gives the Islanders more revenue from games and other events, and you'd think it would be easier for them to stay at that location in a renovated or new arena regardless of how much of the other development is eliminated.

While Wang may or may not be investigating other options, like looking to the Wilpons and Queens, at some point the town will present its new parameters for the site, eliminating the oh-so-scary "mini city" that the local politicians love to call the Lighthouse plan. Hopefully that will come soon, maybe this year? This decade? Before the next World Cup?

At that point, Wang will either be in or out, but that day seems to be so far off it is not even on the horizon. So wake me when it comes, OK?

The lease on the Coliseum runs out in 2015. There's still time to develop a site for a new arena somewhere (good luck with the Iron Triangle, though), but not much.

Part of me would love to see the Islanders find a new site on Long Island and leave Hempstead stuck with either a casino or just a couple of new big box stores to replace a tenant-less arena. Let the politicians take credit for that.

The other part of me wants to stop hearing, talking or writing about this for ever more.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Queens? Hey, It's better than Kansas City

Charles Wang has said all along that he was going to keep his options open. So to hear that Wang has been in discussions with Jeff Wilpon of the Mets about moving the team to a new arena in the vicinity of Citi Field should surprise exactly no one.

The Iron Triangle, as the glut of auto body, muffler and chop shops adjacent to Citi Field is known, is high on mayor Mike Bloomberg's list of areas he'd like to see revitalized, and Wilpon, in his interview with Newsday, is looking for another sports team to join the Mets in the area to help anchor the proposed new development.

Wilpon said he's spoken to Wang and also with Major League Soccer about getting a team to Queens, and has even discussed possible ownership of the Islanders.

Think Ed Mangano and Kate Murray are listening? They should be.

Wang has been silent, as he has for months. He seems content to let others do the talking and the speculating about what his next move is going to be. It's a smart move. Now Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead can start to envision what it could be like without the Islanders. Instead of the Lighthouse, they could have a casino. Or an arena with no tenant.

Personally, I'd have no trouble driving an extra 20 minutes or taking the train to see the Isles play. If they can't make it happen at the Coliseum, then Queens would be the next-best thing. (Actually, Melville or Brentwood would be even better, but I'm not holding my breath.)

Will any of this happen? The Iron Triangle is an environmental disaster (think Chernobyl without any trees to kill) and the people running the "businesses" there have vowed to fight for every last grease-covered and rat-infested inch. So don't expect anything to happen anytime soon.

Like the casino talks, perhaps the Wilpon gambit helps push things along so a revised Lighthouse plan can finally be put forth and accepted.

Or maybe the Wilpons really do go ahead and buy the team.

Either way, it's better than seeing the Isles end up in Kansas City, or Winnipeg, or Branson, Mo., or some other place.

Again, the fans just want the team to stay here and have all this resolved sooner rather than later. But it's never been about the fans, and has never been more than partially about hockey.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A casino? Really?

Long Islanders love their casinos.

We fly to Vegas (cheap, non-stop flights from Islip!), drive to Atlantic City (or take the bus -- it's practically free!), or head up to Connecticut for Mohegan Sun or Foxwoods (high-speed passenger ferries from Orient Point!). It's all very convenient and loads of fun.

But a casino right in our own backyard? How gauche.

Shinnecock Nation, however, has seen how much more money a tribe can make running a casino than selling discount cigarettes on the side of the road, and it wants a piece of the action. Fair enough. The Shinnecocks got the good news at the end of last year that they met the federal recognition criteria, and once they officially get that, you know that building a casino on Long Island will be at the top of their to-do list.

Building a casino out in Southampton will be all but impossible due to traffic, geographic and likely massive residential opposition. Maybe they could build one in Yaphank, near the expressway. Instead, the Shinnecocks have been talking to Nassau County executive Ed Mangano about a casino project that would include a renovated Nassau Coliseum.

Goodbye Lighthouse, hello all-you-can-eat buffets, slot machines and blackjack tables. Jackpot!

While Newsday wonders whether the casino talks "cast a shadow on the Lighthouse," I'm thinking that this could actually speed things along.

The Town of Hempstead wants the Lighthouse pared down and is in the process of rezoning the parcel to make that happen. Charles Wang and Scott Rechler have so far not budged on their mixed-use proposal, which opponents liken to a small city.

Mangano has said that the county has to keep an open mind and look at all possibilities.

I don't know what's going on behind closed doors, but here's how I imagine (or hope) it all goes down.

Local opponents, given the choice between the Lighthouse in some form and a casino, realize that the former is much more palatable.

Wang -- who shot for the moon with his Lighthouse plan -- agrees to work with the new zoning and get something done, which will include a wonderful new arena with lucrative revenue streams. You know, so they can bring in some more talent and maybe win a championship? That's what this is all about, right?

The Shinnecocks don't mind being used because the talks show other municipalities that they are serious players, and maybe another entity (Suffolk County? Riverhead Town?) will be more open to building a casino that would generate the kind of tourist revenue that Connecticut is enjoying so much.

And Mangano comes out looking like a real player and the savior of Nassau County's future.

Too much to hope for? Maybe. But as hockey fans, we just want this mess resolved. We're tired of the politics, the pettiness and really tired of waiting. We want to replace the dump our team plays in with a better facility that will not only make games more enjoyable to attend, but will bring in more money for our team, which we hope will mean better players, more victories and maybe -- just maybe -- another Stanley Cup in our lifetime.

Will that finally happen? I'm not ready to bet on it. Not yet.