I've said before that it boggles my mind that there are Islanders fans old enough to have their own children who cannot remember when the Isles last won a Stanley Cup. Some of that is just the cyclical nature of sports -- even the Yankees have had their down years. Much of that has to do with the ownership struggles the team had to endure prior to Charles Wang purchasing the club, trying times that set the organization back at least a decade.
John Spano, the Gang of Four, the fishsticks logo, Mike Milbury, years of losing -- all conspired to drag down the once-sterling Islanders image. And while Wang has brought stability to the owner's box, he has been criticized for the "team approach" he favors and for giving Rick DiPietro a 15-year deal. So when the news broke that Ted Nolan was fired by Garth Snow -- in what both sides claim was a mutual parting of the ways -- you knew that it would be labeled as yet another example of how bad things are on Long Island.
And sure enough, Scott Burnside of ESPN has weighed in, calling the team a "laughingstock."
Newsday columnist Wallace Matthews -- who probably wouldn't recognize Bill Guerin if he bumped into him -- slapped together some nameless quotes from former employees and player agents to paint the picture of Wang as clueless, and that his hobby "happens to be the systematic screwing-up of a once-great hockey team."
Never mind that Wang more or less saved the team from leaving the Island, that he has been fighting tooth and nail to upgrade the Islanders' arena -- which besides being hopelessly outdated is saddled with the worst lease agreement known to man -- and has put a good deal of focus on community events to strengthen the ties between the team and its fans.
That DiPietro contract? Call it a trend, as NHL teams are locking up their top, young (amd most marketable) players long-term. Wang has also embraced new media in a way no one else has, from Islanders TV to my personal favorite, the Blog Box.
And yet you wonder if the Nolan news is received by players around the league the way Burnside portrayed it - another reason why not to play for the Islanders. Another example of instability from a team that plays in a dump.
But look closer at the move and you see that, given the direction the team is headed, it was inevitable and probably best for everyone, including Nolan. Snow did a terrific job of compiling extra picks at the draft and generally got good reviews (although not from many fans who wanted Nikita Filatov). The Islanders have a number of promising young players on its roster who need playing time to develop. So it's all about the future, and that's fine -- pick a plan and stick with it.
Nolan, with one year left on his deal, felt the team was close enough to win now with the addition of better, more experienced talent. Hence the philosophical differences. You can't blame him, he's a coach. Now he'll get a chance to coach somewhere else.
As a fan, you hate to see a quality coach leave, but there are plenty of candidates out there -- we'll see who Snow selects. The Nolan move also seems to indicate that this really is Snow's team and not so much directed by committee, which would be a step in the right direction; a team needs its GM to be the one to make the final call.
Hopefully, the rebuilding process won't be painfully long -- there's precious little juice in the arena these days and the on-ice product hasn't been terribly exciting. But when you talk to fans you know that they are genuinely excitied about players like Okposo and Campoli and Tambellini and Comeau and Gervais and want to see them play and succeed.
Maybe this is the core of a team that will contend on an annual basis. The team that will one day play in the Lighthouse, a state-of-the-art arena. The team that will bring a Stanley Cup back to Long Island.
Nolan's firing was a step forward. We'll see if it's a step on the right path.