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Top Shelf: Glory days a distant memory for Islanders fans

It was a trying year for Rick DiPietro and the rest of the Islanders this season. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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It was a trying year for Rick DiPietro and the rest of the Islanders this season. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

I’m convinced every city that hosts the Olympics gets a coating of magic dust that never fully goes away.

I visited Calgary 15 years after the 1988 Winter Games were there, but I swear there was still a glow to the city. Ditto for Sydney, Australia, which still seemed to sparkle when I went there a couple years after it hosted the 2000 Summer Games.

The NHL equivalent of this phenomenon is the way franchises that win the Stanley Cup are validated forever. Got a ridiculous team name based on a Disney movie? Win a championship and all jokes must cease. Game’s best player calls your squad a ‘Mickey Mouse’ franchise? Three Cup banners should nip that credibility issue in the bud.

Indeed, winning a championship is an almost foolproof way to ensure a franchise always carries a bit of luster.
 
Almost.

Enter the New York Islanders.

What a sheen this organization used to have. Four straight Cups in the early ’80s; 19 straight playoff-series victories from 1980 to ’84; a top-to-bottom organizational commitment to winning.

But for years now, it seems the Islanders’ management has been using steel wool in a vigorous up-and-down motion to scrape away the glow created by that glory and reduce it to an utterly dull finish.

The most recent in an astonishingly sad series of moves was signing 37-year-old Doug Weight in hopes he will address the fact New York scored a pathetic total of 194 goals this year. If that doesn’t signal an official organizational commitment to acquiring B-level talent, I don’t know what does.

Columbus, which scored one less goal than the Isles this year to occupy the league basement, signed slick winger Kristian Huselius in the summer. Say what you will about Huselius’ intensity, but at least the Jackets are trying.

Bill Guerin preceded Weight as the team’s prime free agent acquisition last summer. For the sake of Isles fans everywhere, can someone please take the Team USA roster from the 1996 World Cup out of GM Garth Snow’s hands?

What’s next, cajoling John LeClair out of retirement to stand in front of the net on the power play and bang in Tony Amonte rebounds?

The Islanders, of course, aren’t the only once-proud organization looping dangerously around the drain these days. But the difference between Long Island and other hurting clubs is how irrelevant and bland the team has become.

Sure Toronto hasn’t won a Cup since ’67, but you can’t ride the subway in that city without overhearing Leafs talk – in August.

Blackhawks fans haven’t seen a parade in almost 50 years, but there’s legitimate hope Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews could be the new Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull. The Hawks are also getting back on the Chicago sports radar (thanks in part to finally getting on TV) and playing an outdoor game at Wrigley Field next year will only further the cause.

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What do you figure an outdoor tilt featuring the Islanders at Yankee Stadium would draw if they weren’t playing the Rangers or Devils? Probably not much more than a handful of Boston Red Sox fans who wanted to be there just to say they witnessed the lowest point in the Stadium’s history.

As if watching the actual Islanders lineup not score goals wasn’t bad enough, fans who used to worship at the alter of Bossy and Trottier can get an extra helping of depression by playing the “what if” game.

You know how it goes: What if the team never traded Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen away for, essentially, nothing? What if, because they kept Luongo in the fold, they’d drafted Dany Heatley No. 1 in 2000, not Rick DiPietro? And the biggest “oh boy” of all, how nice would it be to have Zdeno Chara and the No. 2 pick that turned into Jason Spezza instead of the memory of an era that will forever be known as the Alexei Yashin Albatross Years?
 
Hey, there’s not a remorse-free team in the league. But no squad’s what ifs add up to a sure thing the way the Isles’ do. The collection of talent they’ve traded away could form the backbone of a Stanley Cup winner.

But as it stands, there are Long Island fans eligible to vote in the ’08 presidential election who’ve never seen their team win a playoff round. They, like all Isles supporters, are left drifting at sea with barely a rubber dinghy’s worth of hope to cling to: Maybe Ted Nolan’s got another miracle up his sleeve; maybe DiPietro becomes a top-5 stopper next year; maybe Kyle Okposo bowls over people en route to a surprise 30-goal season.

Or maybe not.

One thing is certain; without a hat trick of uncertainties turning out well, the shine that once marked this franchise will continue to erode.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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