By Daniel Friedman
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There are no dull moments in Islander Country.
Especially in the social media-centric world we live in, where every new development is magnified and over-analyzed to a level that borders on insanity.
At precisely 12:10 a.m. on Friday, just as I was about to go to sleep, TSN’s Bob McKenzie dropped a big one, informing the masses that Islanders’ owner Charles Wang was “in talks to sell (a) majority stake in (the) NHL franchise.” He also cautioned that there’s “no telling if it gets done, but talks (are) underway.”
The first thing that crept into my mind was the realization that I wasn’t going to sleep anytime soon.
The second thing was that this probably marks the beginning of the end for the Wang era.
Wang basically confirmed as much Friday afternoon, releasing a statement saying he is, indeed, open to the idea of selling his majority stake.
“In recent months, there have been numerous expressions of interest in the purchase of the New York Islanders. As I have consistently stated, I have been and remain willing to listen. However, potential buyers expressions of interest in the team or even my listening to them does not mean that any deal will be reached,” Wang said.
Now, whether that happens now or in two years, it is going to happen. It’s an inevitability, and it has been for quite a while. It makes complete sense, from a number of different perspectives.
Before delving into this any further, I’d like to discuss something that’s been lost in translation and/or ignored over the years. Wang has made several mistakes; there’s absolutely no question about it. But, he’s also done a lot of things right, whether you choose to believe that or not.
If not for Wang stepping in and buying the team, the Islanders, not the Atlanta Thrashers, might be the Winnipeg Jets right now.
You might be quick to point out that he had additional motives, that he wanted development rights to the land surrounding Nassau Coliseum. I agree, but I’m not going to hold that against him.
Can you believe the nerve he had to ask for something else in return for paying to rebuild an arena he doesn’t own? What kind of businessman would want to have some insurance on a risky investment?
It’s also worth noting that, after the Lighthouse Project failed, Wang still tried to get a new rink built. So don’t tell me it was all about real estate. This man was trying to do you a service. He was trying to keep the Islanders from going to Winnipeg or Quebec City, and he successfully did that.
Brooklyn might not be Uniondale, but it’s still geographically on Long Island and isn’t anywhere near the provinces of Manitoba or Quebec.
When he first came aboard, he spent money and turned the Isles into a playoff-caliber hockey team. As the years went by, he continued to lose hundreds of millions of dollars and watched as Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead destroyed any other means of recouping his losses. That’s when he started budgeting.
Criticize him all you want; you’d have done the same thing if you were in his shoes, because that’s what a smart businessman does. If you make a bad investment, you don’t continue to pour money into that bad investment.
Now, Wang deserves criticism for other things, like the Rick DiPietro and Alexei Yashin contracts, as well as a host of other mistakes. However, to say that the fans view him in a negative light would be a tremendous understatement. They have vilified him, and I don’t think that’s fair, for the reasons I just mentioned.
Shifting the focus back to these “rumors” (and I use quotation marks because when McKenzie says something’s happening, something’s happening), there isn’t a doubt in my mind that Wang will sell the team at some point within the next few years.
I mentioned that a smart businessman doesn’t spend more money on an investment that’s gone sour. Similarly, Wang’s not going to hold onto a doomed financial venture forever, either. He’s 69 and eventually going to cut his losses however he can and sell. I think he knows that this gig isn’t for him anymore.
This is not going to be a simple transaction and it’s likely going to be a drawn-out process, unless there’s an unwritten part of the Barclays Center agreement that involves an ownership change.
Assuming that’s not the case, Wang is going to try and get as much as he can for the Islanders. Forbes currently has the franchise value listed at $195 million, 26th out of the 30 NHL teams. That might be an attractive price tag if you’re looking to buy, but if you’re a seller, especially one who’s lost a ton of money during your ownership tenure, you may not be overly-enthusiastic.
That’s probably the biggest reason why Wang still owns the team. He’s not going to sell just for the sake of selling until he’s completely desperate. And with a move to Brooklyn that’s sure to increase the franchise’s value on the horizon, perhaps you’d understand why he’s being a bit more patient here. Why would he sell the team for $195 million now when he can get upwards of $200 million in a year or two?
As far as potential suitors go, we don’t really know who might be on the other end. I can’t imagine anyone outside of the Barclays Center universe — whether it’s Bruce Ratner, Brett Yormark or Mikhail Prokhorov — stepping forward and voluntarily purchasing the Islanders.
Unless you’re someone who already has a vested interest in the franchise, I would think you’d be disinclined to take a flier on something like this at the present time.
Wang’s primary goal when he originally bought the team was to ensure that they’d remain the New York Islanders, as opposed to becoming the Quebec Nordiques or Kansas City Scouts.
To that extent, he has succeeded. But the time has come for him to move on and for a new owner to emerge. Contrary to popular belief, I think he fully understands that.
It’s difficult to project how this process is going to unfold and how long it’s going to take. That having been said, even if this is just the start, even if Wang is just putting out the feelers now, this is going to happen. He is going sell the Islanders in the near future.
It’s a logical conclusion to an often illogical era.
Follow Daniel Friedman on Twitter at @DFriedmanOnNYI
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