By Daniel Friedman
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Over the past few years, the New York Islanders have taken tremendous steps forward to improve their image and perception — the impending move to Brooklyn looming all the while.

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They have gone from a team very few outside their geographic epicenter cared about to an on-the-rise, exciting young squad. They’ve gone from a rural locale to the most populous of New York City’s five boroughs. They’ve gone from a team without an identity to one that boasts a lot of skill and a franchise boy wonder in John Tavares.

How have they done it? It’s a culmination of multiple things.

Tavares is the first piece, because he’s the superstar; he’s billboard material. He’s somebody that not only helps the team win, but puts fans in the seats. He’s someone you pay to see. Without him, it’s a much tougher sell.

GM Garth Snow also deserves a lot of credit, because he (along with his scouting staff) has drafted and developed talented players who are now parts of the core. He also went out and got Jaroslav Halak, Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy to shore up the roster and, as a result, he has a winning hockey team.

The other key factor here is the ownership transition. Bringing Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin adds new blood and financial resources, which has a big impact on the on-ice product you can put out.

Suddenly, the Islanders have become “cool.” Chloe Moretz was rooting for them and live-tweeting during the first round against Washington. Heck, we’ve even seen Jimmy Fallon and Taylor Swift wearing Isles swag on “The Tonight Show.”

The fact that someone besides Kevin Connolly was found wearing Isles paraphernalia on television is really indicative of which direction the franchise is heading in.

However, while the organization is doing a lot of right things, it still hasn’t reached the big time.

I want to see Tavares on an EA Sports NHL cover too, but whether we like it or not, it’s all about marketing. The reality is that the Islanders don’t sell on a national scale.

That could change at some point. The Isles could be viewed as a team that everyone wants to watch, and one that consistently makes playoff runs. But they’re not there yet. The mere fact that Tavares was front and center on NHL 16 promotional materials is a huge deal, considering the circumstances.

If the Islanders start winning playoff series and contending, they’ll be much more marketable. Smaller-market teams aren’t marketable unless they make themselves marketable.

Often times I’m asked why they’re not on NBC much, yet the Buffalo Sabres are always on no matter how bad they are.

The answer is quite simple. Buffalo is a huge market when it comes to hockey TV ratings. In fact, it had the highest viewership numbers during the 2013-14 regular season on NBC and NBCSN broadcasts, despite finishing in last place in the NHL standings. Buffalo is there because it draws viewers – that’s it, that’s all there is to it.

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Conversely, the Islanders don’t draw very well on TV. Their local numbers actually had the biggest increase of any team from last year, but they still finished in the bottom half of the league in that category.

If they were a bigger cable draw, that would help. But they’re not – mainly because they play in a considerably smaller market to begin with (something Brooklyn might change) and because they hadn’t put out a compelling product until more recently.

So how do you become marketable if you’re a team with smaller reach and subpar TV ratings?

You win. You score goals, make saves and win games. You become a contender, that’s how you do it. Merely having Tavares in the lineup isn’t going to cut it if you want to be primetime.

The move to Brooklyn will help, but the Islanders need to do the heavy lifting. It would be unwise to assume that the surrounding populous will simply flock to Barclays Center and embrace the Isles as if they were always part of the community.

The Isles have to sell and give people reasons to buy tickets. They have to get folks to tune in, whether the game is on MSG+, MSG+2 or MSG ± √ (b^2 – 4ac / 2a).

The good news is that the Islanders are right on the threshold of becoming an NHL powerhouse – at least on the ice.

When that happens, and when they actually prove they can make it out of the first round of the playoffs, that’s when you’ll see them start to get more national attention. They’ll be on NBCSN five times this season, which is five more games than they were originally slated for last season.

Nassau Coliseum’s swan song was both compelling and romantic, and that prompted NBC to showcase the Isles during the 2015 playoffs. That they provided excellent entertainment value during their NBC playoff games definitely helped, and the fact that Tavares played a big role in all three instances doesn’t hurt, either.

As a refresher: The first was in 2013, during Game 3 against Pittsburgh. It was a hard-fought contest that the Islanders lost in overtime, but it featured an impressive third-period comeback by the Isles. Game 3 against Washington in the 2015 playoffs also went to OT, and Tavares won it 15 seconds after the puck dropped. Game 6 of that same series showed the Islanders force a seventh game. So they’ve put on a good show every time — which is important.

What fans often interpret as “hating the Islanders” is really nothing personal; it’s just business. NBC has to focus the most on teams that it can market the most. Right now, the Islanders aren’t one of those teams. It’s really that simple.

But we’ve arrived at a point where it’s a possibility in the near future. That should tell you just how far this franchise has come. They’ll never be the Rangers or Blackhawks as far as marketability is concerned, but they can still be a team that garners national interest.

Next stop: Atlantic Terminal.

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Follow Daniel Friedman on Twitter @DFriedmanOnNYI