So the question at hand is “why are the Islanders better than any other team in the NHL?” The obvious answer – if we are talking about on-ice performance – is that they aren’t. I can’t sit here and try to convince you that they are going to contend with the upper crust of the NHL this year. Hell, they probably won’t even compete with whatever is below the upper crust in this metaphor of mine. But what I will argue is that the Isles are a team with a very bright future, a storied past and a present that is willing to embrace the here-and-now, as well as make a little news from time to time.
Follow me after the jump and I’ll explain why.
I’ll put it bluntly – if you don’t know about the Islander Dynasty of the early 80’s, then you are either new to hockey (and likely sports in general) or you have Alzheimers. If it’s the latter, you should go see a doctor – but, make sure you write down where you are going and why. If it’s the former, then all you need to know is that from 1979 to 1983 the Isles were the shit, racking up 4 Cups and even knocking off a young Oilers squad that boasted Gretzky, Messier, Coffey and Fuhr (to name a few) for that last one. To put that in ESPNesque perspective, there have only been 4 other teams in all of professional sports history that can make that claim (and one of those was the Ottawa Senators back when there were like 3 teams in the league or something). And just to make sure that no one ever forgets the 4 Cups, the organization was kind enough to give us this handy reminder in the form of a shoulder patch.
(Did I mention they’ve won 4 Stanley Cups?)
If the Islanders can do nothing else well, they will still be grabbing NHL headlines. Why? Two words: Chuckie Wang. The owner may not know too much about hockey (or at least he makes it seem that way sometimes), but he makes up for it in making the Islanders stand apart from the pack in ways not measured in wins and losses. The man also listens to the fans. When they called for talent on the ice, he put talent on the ice (albeit in the form of young girls in skimpy/tight outfits… a trend which has caught on elsewhere). When they said they were tired of losing their best players by trades and/or free agency, he locked up his brightest young star with a contract so long that it would render him untradable and keep him on the island until the point at which he no longer has any knee ligaments, and then another 3 years beyond that. When bloggers were the only media left following hockey, Chuckie embraced them with open arms (and by open, I mean separate and not equal… but its a start). And most importantly (for on-ice performance, anyway), when the rest of the NHL blacklisted a top-notch NHL coach just because he may or may not have banged his goalie’s wife, Chuckie hired him to do what he does best – lead a bunch of underachievers to an above-average season. I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s next on Mr. Wang’s to-do list – any guesses?
The thing that has many fans in Islander Country (myself included) excited is the talented crop of prospects waiting in the wings to save the franchise and maybe, just maybe, win a playoff series before I die. Topping the list is Kyle Okposo who, I’ve heard, gets by defenders by challenging them to pronounce his last name correctly. The kid will be legit when he hits the bigs, we just have to wait a year or two more for that to happen. Also in the system is Blake Comeau, a crafty winger who has played a few games with the big club and could make for an excellent Goose to Okposo’s Maverick. Some other guys that should contribute in the future include Frans Nielsen, Dustin Kohn, and the recently re-signed Sean Bergenheim.
Add the above list to the future stars that already have some NHL game experience such as Jeff Tambellini, Bruno Gervais, Chris Campoli and the face of the Islanders, Rick DiPietro and you can see why, in just a few short years I may be able to say that my team is better than yours and, ya know, actually mean it.
(Thanks to ESPN and the New York Islanders official website for picture help.)