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.