By Daniel Friedman
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The Islanders played their final home game of the 2013-14 season this past Tuesday night. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t win.
For the loyal fans who took up residence in the scarcely populated Nassau Coliseum, it was nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, it was the 28th time this year that the Isles lost a hockey game in that building.
It’s almost astounding how quickly the tides turned; how fast chants of “We Want Playoffs!” were replaced with “Fire Cappy!” and “Sell Wang Sell!” and how suddenly everything went wrong.
This was a team that was on the rise and that, for the first time in years, gave its fans a reason to believe — fans who have been through the tough times and have basically seen it all, fans who now have 41 more nights to bid farewell before their team is shipped off to Brooklyn.
Charles Wang, Garth Snow and the entire organization owed these fans a winner this season. They failed in spectacular and, at times, incompetent fashion.
When Snow traded for Thomas Vanek, he iterated that he was unsatisfied with the team’s performance and used that to justify a shake-up that should never have been made. That having been said, it was to be the only such move he would make this season.
He owed the fans more than empty rhetoric. For years, he has always said that if he sees an opportunity to improve the team, he will look into it. This season, Snow repeated that same mantra but he did not make good on his word.
This summer, Snow has to get the job done. No more company line sound bites. No more blaming Ryan Kesler for failing on trade deadline day. No more stubborn refusals to trade young talent. No more empty promises.
Snow cannot just wait and see if there’s an opportunity to improve the team anymore; he needs to go out there and make it happen. The holes need to be filled and the Islanders need to become a playoff team again.
People don’t want to hear excuses — they want wins. The 2014-15 campaign will mark the final one on Long Island and the organization owes it to the fans to close out this era the right way.
For many years, there were valid excuses for the Isles’ struggles, from the arena situation to the rebuild. On the verge of moving into the state-of-the-art Barclays Center and coming off a recent postseason appearance, those days are over. There simply are no more excuses. At the end of the day, you can either get the job done or you can’t.
If Snow can’t, then the team won’t perform well and the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike will be empty on a nightly basis — as it should be under such circumstances.
I’m sure the underwhelming attendance figures have something to do with the Isles’ abysmal play on home ice, but if the team isn’t competitive, fans aren’t going to show up, especially during these tough economic times.
And yes, you can buy tickets at on the cheap online, but that’s only because of the fact no one goes to the games. Only a winning team (or the Montreal Canadiens) will fill the seats.
There’s only one thing worse than losing, and that’s betraying your fans. What occurred this season went against everything the Islanders promised their supporters. The only way to regain their trust is by proactively showing that they’re the real deal. Go out and acquire a legitimate starting goaltender, bring in a veteran defenseman, get another scoring winger — show that you have a pulse.
I’ve mentioned this several times, but I’ll say it again: the Islanders aren’t far off from being a playoff team again. You look at some of the pieces they have and it’s quite clear that most of the building blocks are in place.
It’s also quite clear that some of those blocks aren’t in place. If Snow can’t change that by the end of the summer, nothing else he’s done will matter anymore; it’ll be time for a new a general manager. If he can, then most of the mistakes he made this year will be forgiven.
Anyone who watched the playoffs last year knows there’s no shortage of passion in Islander Country. The fans are clamoring for another chance to scream and shout, to blow the roof off of the Coliseum. They also want answers and, quite frankly, they deserve them.
This organization owes it to the fans, to the players, coaches and executives who strung together four straight Stanley Cup victories and countless other triumphant moments with their own sweat and blood, and to themselves to make sure that the last year at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is a good one.
It’s unlikely the fans will settle for anything else. The Islanders shouldn’t, either.
Follow Daniel Friedman on Twitter @DFriedmanOnNYI
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