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Islanders

Gallof: Rich Owner, Poor Team — Why Islanders Act Like Desperate Paupers

Sources: The Best Nassau County Will Do Is Make A 'Save-Face' Offer
Charles Wang

New York Islanders owner Charles Wang gives a thumbs-up while listening to chants of “build it now” during a news conference at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., Wednesday, May 11, 2011. (credit: Seth Wenig/AP)

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By B.D. Gallof, WFAN.com

NEW YORK (WFAN) — As you continue to watch the playoffs, you might want to take a look at a team that was once in the same boat as the Islanders — the Florida Panthers. It will give you some perspective on why certain things play out the way they do.

In May of 2010, the Panthers brought over Dale Tallon from Chicago and with him a new emphasis on spending. Despite not being a perennial contender, the Panthers, unlike the Islanders, we’re able to seal deals with all sorts of free agents. Of course, they overpaid for all of them. But the difference here was the new reputation they had to work with, something Tallon had and still has quite a bit of after having put together the Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks two years ago.

The other element that separates the Panthers and Islanders is the simple fact that the former has no venue uncertainty, something that hamstrings anything the latter might even think about trying to do. Add that to a warm climate and year-round training facilities and you get a no-brainer for players and their families.

So as you watch the Panthers, win or lose, you see a team able to leap from a perpetual state of struggle and disappointment into one competing (and quite ferociously) in the playoffs. They were able to pull off a quick change, as opposed to the long, if not meandering, trail the Islanders are taking on their rebuild.

The Islanders had their wallet open over the past few summers, pinpointing certain quality players and cogs. However, due to the aforementioned reasons, they appeared to be unattractive and fell short. The Islanders have instead had to watch teams with better attractions and situations win out in free agency. Once the top targets have left the market, the Islanders have been forced to change gears to merely find placeholders.

Last Aug. 1, just after the failed arena referendum in Nassau County, was the final straw. It was at that moment a new cap floor vision was put forward. Owner Charles Wang would choose to stand pat, allow all things to come to him, and the Islanders would now operate on a strict budget with no additional money spent beyond cultivating and keeping talent necessary to the rebuild.

This has assured that unless Wang relents in certain cases or “blinks,” this summer’s unrestricted free agency period will feature more of the same. It will certainly impede the resigning of talented forward P.A. Parenteau, who has an interest in remaining with the team despite knowing that this might be his one and only big NHL payday.

Meanwhile, Islanders fans have watched their team clean house as two assistants coaches were let go this week. As I said a while back, and Wang confirmed, head coach Jack Capuano is not going anywhere. However, assistants Scott Allen and Dean Chynoweth, who were brought in under previous head coach Scott Gordon, were not surprisingly shown the door.

But it is important to note that the assistants were NOT let go due to monetary reasons. This despite the fact that sources close to the situation told me recently the Islanders are “busted, broke and desperate to leave.” Senior VP Michael Picker is, according to sources, on a mission for owner Wang “to hasten an end of days in Uniondale.”

These are disturbing words, but they do explain a lot of the mountain trying to be made of the asbestos molehill at the Coliseum. I have heard from Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano’s administration that he still believes the Islanders are trying to force something in terms of the asbestos issue and subsequent need to remove it, despite the fact a recent study declared that there was nothing in the air.

There seems to be a dichotomy of contradiction here. There are some in the media who think the Islanders have no leverage, yet it seems that the Isles are eager to exploit leverage from any avenue to escape their lease. In addition, there are those in the hapless and flat broke county’s hierarchy that think the Islanders have no interest in remaining.

I believe a possible element adding to the level of the Isles’ desperation is due to the fact that they feel Quebec’s interest in an NHL team, plus the situation out in Phoenix, will have already sealed the deal surrounding a possible relocation by the time the Islanders’ lease is up in 2015. This would remove a top suitor from the team’s options. If true, however, it does show an indication of Wang’s to get the best bang for the buck, leaving his recent words to Howie Rose on MSG about wanting to remain rather empty, if not duplicitous.

To add to this odd stew, according to an Islanders source, Mangano is currently attempting to put together a new Nassau Coliseum plan, a follow-up to the Aug. 1 referendum that crashed and burned, causing Wang to finally give up and adopt this current hard line. According to that source, “[The plan] is very cryptic or very ignorant. I believe the latter.”

Most believe that any plan is too little too late, and probably unrealistic. It is more likely that this would be an attempt by Mangano’s administration to save face if and when the Islanders do move on. In other words, it would be a way of saying that the county tried to keep them.

I have also heard through the grapevine that Brooklyn might be building a case to get Wang to come over. What was previously only tepid interest by the Islanders might have changed as sources have mused it is possible that he would be just happy to stave off continual losses, without recouping much, if any, of the reported $250 million he’s lost since taking over control of the franchise.

The key would be being able to break even, something the organization has not done since Wang took over.

This would be pinning a lot on Wang being far less of a cutthroat and, hence, more reasonable. Is this a hopeful middle ground? There seems be two different theories in play here. It’s hard to know which one is correct.

Is Brooklyn imminent? Hardly, but it is more promising, especially since Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is now reportedly part of the equation, along with Barclays head Bruce Ratner.

In other words, keep an eye on this because Brooklyn might be eager to give Wang reasons to stay in New York, especially if the borough is willing to start offering incentives and perhaps a seating arrangement change should the Isles  commit.

However, be wary because Quebec, Seattle and other places will also be considered in the equation. It will all depend on how committed Wang is to this possible new vision and how far he is willing to take it. If it is all about the almighty dollar and best revenue stream potential, any talk of Brooklyn, Queens and the New York City area in general might just end up being moot.

Read more columns by B.D. Gallof

What is your gut feeling on the Islanders’ future? Will they leave the area or will Brooklyn step up and make an offer they can’t refuse? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …