Islanders Continue Free Fall

The New York Islanders, a 1980s dynasty with four Stanley Cups, are now under siege on all fronts: fans, owners, players, league executives and politicians.

The franchise once known for stability has plunged to the depths. The team that was NHL champion from the 1979-80 season through the 1982-83 season hasn't made the playoffs since 1993-94, when they were swept by the New York Rangers in the opening round. The Islanders haven't had a winning season since 1992-93.

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  • Now the fans are angry, the players are upset with management, the league is embarrassed and the future of the team is uncertain.

    When the Islanders opened this season at home with a loss to Pittsburgh last Saturday, many in the crowd of 11,457 let management have it.

    Chants of "We want Spano" echoed through the Nassau Coliseum, a reference to John Spano, whose attempt to buy the team ended in disgrace when he was convicted on fraud charges.

    Presumably, any owner -- even Spano -- would be welcome to the fans in the midst of this mess.

    "I'm not sure I can see any silver lining between the Islanders and SMG," said David Seldin, president of New York Sports Ventures, which owns the team. "The fans have had a tough road. We haven't done right by them, but we can't do it alone."

    Last month, the Islanders moved out of the Coliseum and filed a $10 million lawsuit against SMG -- formerly the Spectacor Management Group -- claiming the 26-year-old arena was falling apart and posed a danger to fans and players. That suit has not been resolved.

    The Coliseum is owned by Nassau County, and leased t SMG -- a Philadelphia management company. The building was ruled safe by a judge after an independent engineering inspection, paid for by the NHL.

    Stanley Cup
    Islanders fans have endured nothing but heartache since last seeing their team hoist the Stanley Cup in 1983. (AP)

    Nassau County received a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Islanders from playing home games anywhere other than the Coliseum. After the NHL inspected the building, the order became a preliminary injunction.

    Seldin said the Islanders will honor the injunction, but the enmity remains between the team and arena management.

    All of which has stalled the Islanders in their bid for a new arena. New York Sports Ventures has given NHL commissioner Gary Bettman the authority to negotiate with Nassau County.

    The team is locked into a lease until 2015, and SMG is contracted to manage any new arena. If the Islanders try to move outside Long Island, their lucrative television contract will be voided.

    It appears that if fences can't be mended, the Islanders might be up for sale -- again. The team has undergone four ownership changes in less than two seasons.

    There is talk the Islanders will dump high-priced players if the team fails to get off to a good start. With star forward and free agent Zigmund Palffy at home in Slovokia embroiled in a contract dispute, the Islanders lost their first two games.

    Fans faced yet another indignity one day before their home opener. MSG Network announced the game would not be televised, nor would two road games on the first road trip. MSG said it was a cost-cutting move. Also, there were no pregame ceremonies for Saturday's home opener.

    "We were expecting some sort of presentation," defenseman Kenny Jonsson said. "We were surprised when we found out there wouldn't be any."

    One Islanders player, who requested anonymity, said it's no longer fun to come to the rink.

    "It's now a job," he said. "In most organizations, management goes out of their way to help the players do such things as find a home. Here, you have the players, the coaches and the management -- and none mix with each other."

    After Saturday's loss, some of the players felt embarrassed -- for the fans, as well as themselves.

    "Please thank the fans for us," forward Bryan Smolinski said. "I feel so badly for them. I hope they stick by us. We're trying our best."

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