A new era of Islanders ownership was ushered in on July 1, when Scott Malkin and Jonathan Ledecky assumed 85 percent control over the business operations of the hockey club.
On Wednesday afternoon, Ledecky hosted a four-table open conversation session with members of the media at Manhattan's exclusive 21 Club to discuss his platform for turning New York into a 'world class organization that players want to come to and don't want to leave.'
He followed that on Thursday by meeting with fans at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, an event hosted by MSG's Shannon Hogan, which also featured appearances and comments by Brock Nelson, Casey Cizikas and Bob Nystrom.
Appearing equally comfortable in both settings, Ledecky offered up some interesting comments on the future of how the team will be run while also taking some shots across the bow of the Islanders cross-town rivals, the New York Rangers.
The audience of each event came away impressed with all the learning Ledecky was able to do in the background over the course of the last two years. Since the deal was announced, he has possessed the vision and drive to return the Islanders to relevance while infusing a celebration of old and new traditions.
After speaking about how he and Malkin first met, in which Ledecky was a sports journalist covering his high school hockey team, of which Malkin was a player, he described the bond they formed that still lasts to this day.
Malkin seems to be more of the 'silent partner' type, as his global travel schedule as founder of Value Retail PLC keeps him on the road more often than not. Ledecky said the two speak every day and this would be his full-time job, from the time he awakens at 8 a.m. until settling in for the night around midnight.
His focus will be on the business operations side exclusively, as his comments made it pretty clear he will not be a meddling' owner. '
"The worst kind of owner is one who meddles in hockey operations. I will not tell (GM) Garth (Snow) how to do his job. That is how disaster starts," Ledecky added before finally putting an end to what kind of financial team the Islanders will be, stating "we will spend to the cap to win the Stanley Cup." Words to a long-time or decade-long Islanders fans' ears, after being beaten down by ownership follies that Saturday Night Live skits are made of and financial constraints put on a GM trying desperately to rebuild and field a competitive roster.
Ledecky would walk the concourse of Barclays Center, sometimes being mistaken for an usher, adding color to his philosophy of rebuilding the Islanders image. "The great thing about being invisible for two years, because your picture is not online or in the newspaper, is I talked to hundreds of fans anonymously, and not posing as the owner, just posing as a fan, sometimes wearing a coat and tie," Ledecky said.
"The most important thing was to take that feedback, because you're competing against this wonderful ghost in the Coliseum," he continued. "The Coliseum had a whole bunch of issues, but nostalgia overwhelms our fans, as it overwhelms all of us as we get older. We have to make Barclays Center feel more like the Islanders' home. It's a wonderful facility, but it is generic. So we're working with Barclays. In the middle of last season, we weren't happy with the scoreboard presentation, so we sat down with them, and they're great partners, and they got a production company to start increasing the professionalism and expand the number of the videos to engage the fans."
The fans seem to be the focus of Ledecky's initial agenda, but that strategy has implications that go well beyond and extend to the bottom line of wins and losses on the ice. That is, making this an organization and destination that keeps players here and lures the best talent from around the league.
"We should be the world-class destination for free agents," Ledecky said. "If you think about a cap world, everybody can spend to the cap and we certainly have no constraints on our GM and our staff to spend. We want to create and continue to progress towards John Tavares lifting that Stanley Cup, so we should be world class in everything we do."
"If I see a tweet from a player's wife complaining about the Barclays Center experience, it makes me cringe," Ledecky continued. "What's wrong with the family experience at Barlcays? Let's fix it. Let's get the buzz that you want to be playing for the New York Islanders, because they are a world-class group, world class in the way they travel, where they stay, how they treat the players."
You get the feeling that Ledecky will spare no expense to make the fans comfortable and wanting to come back to Barclays Center again and again. He spoke of one incident where a fan complained after an Islanders loss about the food. He then went around to almost every vendor in the facility to find out what happened and how they can rectify the situation.
The next game, an Islanders win, he saw the same fan and Ledecky asked him about his culinary experience this time. 'Fantastic. Everything was great!, he was told. 'Winning really does make food taste better,' Ledecky quipped with a boyish grin.
Take what Ledecky said about Montreal at face value to fully understand how serious he is about the fan experience in Brooklyn. "In Montreal they're there, and if there's one imperfection on that glass, they're replacing it for their fans. That's meticulousness. If you start with that it permeates through the whole organization. It's like when the squeegee men were in New York City. Get rid of the squeegee men and all of a sudden the feeling about New York went up. It's the same thing. When you start from the most basic thing and work your way up from there you become successful."
When a premium ticket holder complained to Ledecky last season, he went right to the source. "They said, 'Jon, I can't see through the glass.' I finally went to Brett and said, 'I'm sorry, each pane of glass is $750. You need to buy new panes of glass and when I get that complaint you have to fix that. That's our stockholder.'"
On the topic of Barclays Center itself, the time has come to move on from the fans fantasy of seeing this team move back to a refurbished Nassau Coliseum.
Ledecky would not comment much on any particulars relating to a still largely uncorroborated report of a five-year out clause, saying, "We didn't make that deal. I wasn't there when that deal was cooked up. And Bruce Ratner is no longer there. I think the Barclays folks feel like we feel, which is: Hey, fresh start, blank piece of paper."We have the guidelines of this relationship. But I have to give them credit: When we were very unhappy with the video presentation, they did something about it. When we were unhappy about the ice, they brought in the chillers. When we still were unhappy with the ice, we went to the NHL and they brought in [ice expert] Dan Craig."
He finished off his thought by answering the question of if he sees the Islanders at Barclays Center for a long time by saying "Yes. Yes, I do. Barclays Center is our home."
For the record, the NHL has so far been reluctant to even discuss the proposed 'six-game' plan for the new Coliseum and with work looking far from being completed, there won't be any more discussions at least until the building is completely finished and open for business.
For an afternoon and subsequent evening, Ledecky mastered the art of public relations. He said everything he needed to, with enthusiasm and confidence. You get the feeling that he is truly legitimate, sincere and excited to finally be working full-time on everything Islanders.
As we stood just inside the entrance to the Gallery Room of the 21 Club, talking before the media session got underway, Ledecky told me how excited he was to be reading my work, congratulated me on my new position at SNY, and went on to speak of his dislike of the shots required to head off to Rio and watch his niece, swimmer Katie Ledecky, participate in the summer Olympics. For a second, I felt like I was talking to someone I went to high school with. It's that kind of personality that endears Ledecky to many that he comes across.
But, as we've said before in this space, it's a results-based business. And the results are all that are going to define where Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin end up in the storied history of the New York Islanders. We finished our personal conversation with Ledecky saying, 'If we're doing well, you'll write about it. If we're not doing well, make sure you write about that too."