By B.D. Gallof, WFAN.com
As I first reported two weeks ago, the Islanders will play a preseason game next season in Brooklyn against the Devils on Oct. 2.
It has created a stir, perhaps a byproduct of PR and the fact that there has been almost no movement between owner Charles Wang and ... anywhere on the arena issue since last August's referendum failed to be passed by the voters in Nassau County.
Some Isles fans have complained that due to the location, there might be a large contingent of Devils fans at that preseason matchup. Well, one has to wonder if that is the point of playing the game in Brooklyn. The Isles cannot afford a poor showing by fans in another preseason showcase like they experienced with their last attempt in Kansas City, which had less energy than the Newsday cover story.
Sadly, the "energy" this time around is really more of the same. Despite the inevitable media buzz and the glimmer of hope this will create for a downtrodden fan base, the realities of Brooklyn being any more than a diversion and attempt to pick up some interest from other areas, like Queens and Suffolk, while sending a message to Nassau, aren't many.
The ultimate goal with these smokescreens is to get someone to ante up some options for the team as its lease with Nassau County winds down. The idea of Brooklyn two or three years ago might have had more promise. Back then, the media and blogosphere would innocently parrot notions. Now, anyone parroting them is instead feeding into the Islanders' own PR aims and hype.
Brooklyn is wrought with issues; among them the possible territorial permissions involving the Rangers that do not include Brooklyn or Queens, for that matter. However, others say a 1986 amendment to the Rangers agreement with the NHL allows for the Islanders to move to Queens or Brooklyn. Time will tell if this provision, if true, will have any bearing on the Isles' situation.
Meanwhile, the other ignored fact is that with the seating and venue Brooklyn Wang would make little if any profit margin, which would be extremely difficult for a team in rebuilding mode. The Isles could have problems retaining their own key players, let alone attracting anyone new. The fact is, profit margin, which has never been reached since Wang purchased the team, would soon be forced upward.
For ownership, that would simply be suicidal. The Isles would possibly have to pay money to the Rangers and hope for profits down the line with a limited cap on audience. They'd get no percentage of concessions, parking or anything else to offset this.
These realities are why NHL sources and those close to Wang have continually said over the years that this owner will likely not "just be a tenant."
However, there are a few caveats:
1. Someone offers Wang development rights at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, or in any other possible venue situation.
2. Whoever wants the Islanders gives them a guaranteed minimum amount of money that assures their profit margin (in lieu of climbing salaries due to the rebuild).
3. Whoever wants the Isles in Queens/Brooklyn offers to pay the Rangers the price to get territorial permission, if indeed there is a price to pay.
These elements might give Wang a reason to hold on to the team than sell to the highest bidder come 2015. The Brooklyn area has been revitalized and might be a potential boom, but only with development or a piece of the pie. Otherwise it would take decades for the Isles to even pull a slim profit margin.
And then there is this huge concern: can the Islanders gain fans in predominately Ranger or hockey inattentive areas, fans they will lose after leaving Nassau, and, more importantly, Suffolk?
This chasm will be huge.
In other words, there are far more complexities and issues with Brooklyn, so much so that it can't be glossed over anymore. Don't buy the hype.
We should also correct a misconception rolling around that somehow Wang will sell locally as a preference. That might be an Isles fan's hope, besides an NHL wish, but for a guy who has lost an average of $10 million per season, well, that bubble could burst.
If 2015 rolls around and nobody has offered those guarantees I listed at least in part, then Wang will sell to the highest bidder, period. There are no allusions or illusions here, folks, and don't believe anyone telling you differently.
It won't be pretty if it gets to this point. Whether the NHL can put a stop to that is in question, because it has made it clear it wants the Islanders to stay on Long Island. However, wishes didn't keep Atlanta from losing its team last summer.
In the end, it is up to fans to show up and sell out a preseason venue to send those with the means incentive to offer up something to entice the team. Just as the team needs to turn a corner on the ice, fans need to rally and show up where and when it counts.
Since the referendum failure, Wang has taken a fair amount of caution financially, resulting in a stricter budget for his hockey team. These concerns halt engaging in trades that would force the Isles to add payroll. Therefore, immediate needs, like a second top defenseman, are not pursued. The time it takes to turn the corner as a team then takes longer due to the development of kids and cast-off veterans looking to still play the game. It becomes the continual modus operandi.
While the Isles executing a perceived and unquestioned turnaround is key, so is generating fan interest in what will be one of many factors finding its way into the equation as the team's venue situation careens to toward the end of the Nassau Coliseum lease in 2015. This is why you're seeing PR announcements and tactics.
Expect more preseason tilts all over the map (Canada next, surely in 2013) in due time to send more messages. Maybe by the third or fourth time, the media will finally get wise and start asking more questions.
Hype on Trades?
A lot of people seem to be sure that Evgeni Nabokov will be dealt. If not for Al Montoya tangling with concussion issues and Rick DiPietro making his seasonal appearance on injured reserve, this might have been true. However, several factors are weighing in here to make Nabokov's departure unlikely.
First off, the goalie market is crowded, even forcing NHL players to go elsewhere. Unless there is a substantial injury to a contending team, it will remain thin.
Add to that fact Montoya hasn't been that healthy and has never played as many games as he already has this season, and it makes it even more unlikely that any NHL level goalie on Long Island gets dealt.
Kevin Poulin has been subjected to a slow AHL development. This is not by accident. It is clear the Islanders feel that he needs to shore up items in his game to take to the NHL level long term.
With a looming CBA standoff around the corner, you will see substantially player movement by contenders and others positioning their cap space. However, I would not expect much on Long Island. Certainly nothing major.
Read more columns by B.D. Gallof
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