I’m no longer a fan of any team, but I’ll always remember what it was like growing up in Toronto as a hockey lover in the Harold Ballard Era, and the unbridled relief that washed over my friends and I when the eccentric Maple Leafs owner no longer was in control of our beloved franchise. Now, nobody was overjoyed it took the march of time and the grim reaper to unseat Ballard from power, but after suffering through his bizarre decisions and stubborn adherence to a game plan that made little sense to anyone, all we cared about was there would be a new energy, a new spirit to try and repair the damage that had been done to a once-proud organization.
So I think I know exactly how New York Islanders fans are feeling now that there’s a report team owner Charles Wang is looking to sell the franchise after nearly a decade-and-a-half of paying their bills. There’s an argument to be made Wang has been instrumental in ensuring the Isles weren’t relocated – and to be fair, he did throw millions at certain players (signing Rick DiPietro to a 15-year contract and later buying the injury-prone goalie out; and also paying massive disappointment Alexei Yashin to go far, far away). But the money he’s spent never led the team to greatness or consistent competitiveness. And in this bottom-line business, any attempt to paint his ownership as a non-disaster is wishful thinking at best and outright delusion at worst.
Wang’s loyalty – admirable for a precious few – to current GM Garth Snow and his predecessor Mike Milbury amounted to next to nothing in terms of on-ice results. Since 2004, the Isles have played eight playoff games and won three. From 2007-12, they finished dead last in their division. They’re radioactive when it comes to signing free agents, in part because of decrepit Nassau Coliseum, but also because they have shown no capability as an organization to take the next step in the competitive cycle. This year’s disastrous Matt-Moulson-Thomas-Vanek trade was the latest example of their best-laid plans going awry.
Again, there’s something to be said for Wang’s focus on keeping the Isles in the greater New York City area; and their move to Brooklyn for the 2015-16 campaign should alleviate many of the revenue and optics problems associated with the team. But in the same way an NHL GM becomes tainted after too many years of dismay and disappointment, Wang has become synonymous with failure.
As former Isles PR man and Sports Business Journal reporter Chris Botta noted on Twitter, nothing has been cemented on the sale front.
SBJ: NHL source confirms Bob Mc's Isles sale talks tweet. But source says: 1. Deal far from complete 2. Wang furious over news leak
— Chris Botta (@ChrisBottaNHL) March 28, 2014
However, these are unhatched chickens you can’t blame Isles fans for counting. They need an injection of hope as badly as most hockey writers need an injection of fashion sense. And Wang simply isn’t the man to provide it anymore. They need a fresh face, a new direction and a better message.
It’s often true the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. But even the most well-intentioned devil wears out their welcome and the risk-reward of a new devil outweighs the benefits of familiarity.