Five years ago last week, Charles Wang announced that the Islanders would move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the 2015-16 season. Although that 25-year lease agreement - erroneously reported to be a windfall of cash that would keep the Islanders flush for a generation - turned out to be toilet paper, it's a good time to consider Wang's legacy as Islanders owner.
The view from here is simple: If you have ever cared about the New York Islanders, then you should know that Wang is the person who kept them here - against all odds, against all reason, possibly at times to the detriment of his sanity. That's his legacy. That's why, for all the times over 16 years when Wang or his hockey team made you hang your head or bang it on the table, this is why he should be remembered fondly.
At the urging of his close friend, former senator Al D'Amato, Wang bought the Islanders in April 2000 to keep the Islanders in New York and -- hopefully someday in the following decade -- build a new arena for Long Island as the centerpiece of development of the Nassau HUB. (All these years later, I instinctively dry-heave whenever I hear that three-letter word).
Although we never got to meet at the Lighthouse, Wang tried to do what was right for the Islanders, their fans and Nassau County. While his approach was not always perfect, Wang had to deal with an endless parade of clueless, contemptible, and sometimes corrupt politicians. It's difficult to imagine anyone who could have struck a deal with these clowns, in that climate.
But an amazing thing happened along the way. Wang fell hopelessly in love with hockey, his franchise, and his players.
Consider this: When I started with the Islanders in the late '80s, I tried to make a few extra bucks doing group sales. One day, I broke out the Yellow Pages and asked, "Hey, what about this big company in Suffolk called Computer Associates?" The boss said, "No chance. They never do anything. The owner there, guy named Wang, doesn't want anything to do with hockey."
By 2001, Charles Wang wanted everything to do with his Islanders.
Everybody knows where Wang struggled to deliver big success. He treated his general managers like brothers. He treated Alexei Yashin and Rick DiPietro as sons. Time and time again until he finally got fed up, he wanted to believe that local politicians cared about the Islanders, the community, and the development of the Coliseum property.
Say what you will about his faults, but there's a through line: Loyalty and faith. Make no mistake, from the day I met him, D'Amato, and Tom Gulotta for a meeting at the Garden City Hotel on his day of introduction in 2000 through my last day at the Islanders, from an accepted invitation to be interviewed by me at a Sports Business Journal conference years later to the team's final year at the Coliseum, with me Wang was gracious, generous and often the best person in the room.
Look, I get it. You don't completely flick away a 16-year body of work (with one playoff series victory) with, "Hey, he's a great guy." Of course not.
But you need to know this. Wang received massive offers to sell the team to people who would have moved the Islanders far away from New York within a year. If you think he cashed in pretty well when Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky came around, you're right. But he could have sold for even more years earlier.
In the end, he recovered his losses, got to throw a few middle fingers around, laughed at the phonies who screwed him over, and kept his friends.
Most of all, for Islanders fans, he kept the Islanders in New York. Now it's over to Ledecky and Malkin.
On that day five years ago this month when the Islanders announced the move to Barclays, the sad buffoon Ed Mangano told reporters with a straight face, "No one did more to retain the New York Islanders than my administration." What a tool.
No one did more to keep the Islanders where they belong than Charles Wang. His legacy is that second place on the list isn't even close.
Tweeted Questions of the Day
Since my lead on Charles Wang was a look at the past, I figured let's address some of your questions about the present…
@Joshua Silber asked, "Playoff team - yay or nay"?
The answer, Joshua, is the same as the first column and the more detailed second one: yes, absolutely. We've already seen why. They're playing merely okay, the goaltending has been adequate but not fantastic, and the power play is a comedy festival. Yet, they're 7-4-1 and in a playoff spot. And should they ever fall out, my answer will be the same. Yes, yes, you get the point.
@RickJBrody asked, "What would it take for John Tavares to sign a new contract tomorrow"?
Since Rick asked this after the game last night, and there's not much time left in the day, I'm not optimistic. Fact is, it wouldn't take anything. Tavares and his agent, Pat Brisson, know what's generally on the table. From the Islanders, it will be around $10-12 million for 8 years.
Today, Tavares has all the information he needs about the team and plans for a new arena. Depending on how the RFP process goes - it's rare when it goes smoothly and on schedule - Tavares may not have much new information next July 1.
Again, a lot of people are working to make it happen. Whether a deal gets signed, I'm hopeful. But at this juncture I'm neither optimistic or pessimistic because that would require mind-reading.
@NYIPhan asked, "When you hear about scouts at Isles games, does that typically mean Snow has indicated to GMs that someone is available"?
Nine out of ten times, it actually doesn't mean diddly. Teams employ scouts. Scouts have to scout. At any Islanders game, home or away, there will be anywhere from five to 15 scouts. Lots of times, they're just taking notes, filing reports, perhaps doing a little advance scouting if their teams are playing the Islanders sometime soon.
When a team, as the Rangers recently did, send four or five top people to see the Canadiens play, that means something. But otherwise, not a lot to see here.
Some scouts don't even stay for the whole game, which always killed me. You have one job, guys. Then there's the longtime, well-traveled scout who once asked me in the Coliseum press box for a good place to listen to some music and have a few drinks. I told him about Mulcahy's in Wantagh. Craziest thing, he never missed a Saturday night game in Uniondale the rest of the season.