Islanders Point Blank founder and former SNY contributor Chris Botta will be back with us this season, posting multiple columns each week.
When we last left off about five years ago, the New York Islanders were a franchise without a long-term home -- a team entering each season merely yearning to grab one of the final playoff berths in the Eastern Conference.
While many faces - including the latest batch of intriguing young players - have changed, in the big picture, not a lot else has.
As another season starts this week, we will get caught up in the glory of John Tavares, the promise of Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Ho-Sang, the underrated artistry of Nick Leddy, a likely return to the Stanley Cup playoffs, and all the highs and lows that come with being a passport-carrying member of Islanders Country.
This is hockey, the best game around, and heck yeah…we're going to enjoy every second of it. But not let's lose sight of what's at stake: the future of the franchise in New York, and the future of the team as a perennial contender any time soon.
Oh, is that all?
The Islanders need a new arena deal. They also need to re-sign Tavares to a long-term contract. After a quarter-century of Howard Milstein and "pigs at the trough," the tragicomedy of John Spano, and Charles Wang's "Paris Has Her Tower," it has come to this. The Islanders don't have a true home, and soon they could be without their franchise player, who wants to stay.
An end must be put to the uncertainty and mediocrity. Forget for a moment the debate over the commute, or whether the Islanders could ever prosper in the beautiful borough of Brooklyn. Forget, at least until the next guy gets hurt, that the Islanders play on a surface adequate for Moana on Ice, but sub-standard for Tavares's tap-dancing or Cizikas and Clutterbuck crashing into opponents - and that everyone knew this when the Islanders did the deal to play at the Barc.
The Islanders play in an arena built specifically for basketball. Except when they're in the playoffs - when you can play anywhere and the place would rock - the Barclays Center experience stinks. They need to get out of there soon, they're running out of time, and they have two options.
One of those options, no one wants to think about. The other is the property around Belmont Park in Elmont, Long Island, New York. This is where second-year majority owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky have 100 percent of their focus and more than 99 percent of their hopes. There is reason for legitimate optimism that something can get done in Elmont.
Islanders ownership has put itself in the best position to succeed. Malkin and Ledecky have deep pockets and, unlike their predecessors, they appear to know how to finesse community leaders and decision-makers. They are also being consulted on the bid by Oak View Group.
Some people have asked about the "optics" of this because OVG is owned, in part, by Madison Square Garden. This is the sports business in 2017. If you were going to build a fifth major arena in the New York-New Jersey area, you sure could do a lot worse than having the MSG Company, sports kingmaker Tim Leiweke, entertainment mogul Irving Azoff, and the highly-respected NHL and venues veteran Peter Luukko on your side.
But also remember, OVG is working on an arena in Seattle.
As we all have to accept by now, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on the Corner of Mangano, Murray and Yormark is not an option. It's a nice little venue for a minor league town, like a Providence or Springfield. It is not a long-term NHL option in New York. Way to go, Nassau politicians!
So what's an Islanders fan to do?
The same as always. Support your team, which should be entertaining this season. Support the latest owners' latest efforts on the latest new arena plan - yeah, all over again. Put your faith in them until they prove unworthy of it.
Because keep this in mind. The following is a series of substantial quotes from Ledecky and Malkin on the future of the franchise in New York in the year since they took charge:
Their silence is not a threat. But in time, the other option could be a reality.
Hope for Belmont.
And for Tavares to stick around.
And for Doug Weight's team to take a step forward.
This is not just another year in the life of a historically successful and epically-battered franchise. You've been waiting for the Islanders to be relevant again? They're plenty relevant this season.
Today's Tweeted Question
@HockeyRebel asked via Twitter: Is Eberle the missing link for JT? Did we win the Strome trade?
The joyful, majority reaction to the trade was understandable. As of this very second, Eberle is a more accomplished and effective player than Ryan Strome. But it also felt like Strome, the talented kid the Islanders picked fifth overall in the 2011 draft, wasn't even part of the discussion. It was like people thought, "Yay, we got Eberle" and "We gave up nuthin."
This isn't the Reinhart Rip-off of 2015, when Peter Chiarelli lost his mind trading for a struggling defense prospect whose upside was misjudged by Islanders' scouts when they took him fourth overall. Credit to Garth Snow for fixing the mistake by acquiring the 16th and 33rd picks in the 2015 draft for Reinhart. The picks, the latter in a roundabout way, turned into Barzal and Beauvillier, who got out of their respective beds this morning already better hockey players than Reinhart - and could be very, very good NHLers.
Eberle has his flaws and was known to disappear for long stretches in Edmonton. Playing alongside Tavares will remedy that. Eberle should score at least 25 goals this season. Is he the missing link? No. He's just another good hockey player.
It doesn't really matter who won the trade, just that Eberle does his part. As for Strome, it's not like the Islanders gave up nothing. He has skill and he cares. He has a 50-point NHL season behind him at a young age. He's going to get a chance to play with some great players over time. I look forward to seeing if Strome gets back on track and believe he will.
Snapshots of…Zigmund Palffy
(whereby in some columns I share the first few memories that pop into my head of figures in Islanders history)
- When Ziggy was drafted in the second round in 1991, an endearingly crusty Canadianfirst Islanders scout grumbled at the table, "Kinda early to be picking a Czechoslovakian, eh"? (Ya, he was wrong about everything).
- Palffy wore number 68 before switching to 16. "I am not Jagr," he said. "I am Ziggy."
- Coaches tried to turn the gifted sniper into Bob Gainey or Patrice Bergeron. To his credit, Ziggy really tried. One day, he walked off the ice after practice and through staggered breath shouted, "This backchecking is [bleeping] killing me"!
- Ziggy learned English from watching '80s movies. His favorite was John Candy. He'd often say something so irrelevant that we'd be asking each other, "What movie is that from"? And, as some of you know, he even used movie dialogue during contract disputes. On the rare night Ziggy would have a bad game, Mike Milbury would sometimes point it out: "Hey, if he wants to be paid like a star…" When Palffy heard this, he muttered, "What does he think…every day is Christmas"? We figured it came from "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," but movie buffs are welcome to factcheck in the comments section.
- Palffy was an absolutely wonderful player. Check out how many goals he produced on some pretty, pretty thin rosters. Even in some dark times for the franchise, he was a joy to be around. Thank you, Ziggy.
Biron says Oui: Reached out to Martin Biron, the Sabres studio analyst on MSG Networks, for his take on the Islanders' expectations this season. Marty was a good goalie for just about every team in the area, so he's unbiased. He's also an outstanding commentator. Here's his response:
"The Islanders are going to be in a battle all the way until the end, but I believe they will make the playoffs. I really like Barzal and Ho-Sang, who I see as young stars in this league. Tavares is great, Lee works well with him and Brock Nelson should have a good season. The Islanders play a tight defensive game as a team and they'll be able to come out of top in enough low-scoring games to reach the postseason."
Watch the Flames: Always glad to see Jaromir Jagr in the NHL, but sure seems like a late, panic move for Calgary. GM Brad Treviling made the ill-advised decision to give up the Flames' 2018 first round pick in the overly-generous package to acquire Travis Hamonic. Feeling here is that a GM should never give up a first-rounder unless it's more than mid-way through the season and you know for sure that pick is going to be 20th or later. If the Flames stumble - and, like the Islanders, they have a lot of uncertainty around them - Calgary management is going to start sweating through their shirts. That first round pick could turn out to be a lot earlier than 20th.
R.I.P., Giz: The Country lost a good man on Sept. 20 when Gerry Ianarelli passed away after a battle with cancer at the age of 55. Gerry was an equipment man for the Islanders during the '90s and was a hard worker and a really kind and generous man. He will never be forgotten.
I'm not writing too much about the John Tavares contract situation in this first column because, well, that would be too obvious. And besides, I'm going to need the material when I come up dry down the line. Like as soon as column two.
With our thoughts with the victims of the tragedy in Las Vegas, and so much devastation in Puerto Rico, Houston, Florida and too many other places, one thing those of us far away can always do is give blood. So consider a visit to the Red Cross, New York Blood Centers, Long Island Blood Services or any collection outlet in your region.
Favorite Tom Petty song: "The Best of Everything."
As we get set for another season, this is also my wish for you.
Chris Botta worked a long time for the Islanders, started Point Blank, then wrote for The New York Times and SportsBusiness Journal. In July 2016, he started a communications consulting business, working with sports leagues and teams. Since none are affiliated with the NHL, he is writing this column from his home office, the RVC Library and the Barnes & Noble in Carle Place. He is very grateful to Islanders fans for their support and encouragement over these many years. Please send ideas and feedback by replying to him on Twitter @ChrisBottaNHL