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Trying to predict how a young team like the Islanders will
perform can be difficult. But that's not as challenging as
figuring out who owns the club. John Spano ran the Islanders
after the NHL approved his $165 million purchase of them last
February, but he missed several payments to the former owner,
was arrested in July on federal charges of bank and wire fraud,
and relinquished control of the club in July. These days the
only Islanders Spano is likely to meet are those on Rikers, and
erstwhile owner John O. Pickett has retaken the reins of the
team. For now.

Last month Coyotes co-owner Steve Gluckstern announced that he's
heading a group that has agreed to purchase the Islanders for
$195 million. That deal, which will probably come in December,
is awaiting approval from the league's board of governors.

Overshadowed by this game of musical owners is a team stocked
with young talent. By finishing 29-41-12 last season, New York
improved its 1995-96 total by 16 points and remained in the
playoff hunt until the final two games. Says general manager
Mike Milbury, "Anything less than the postseason has to be
considered a failure."

For a team that has missed the playoffs every year since 1994
and has the league's second-lowest point total over the last
three years, that's a lofty goal. It's also realistic. The
Islanders have the NHL's best corp of young defensemen, led by
'97 rookie of the year Bryan Berard. "The nucleus of this team
is on defense," says coach Rick Bowness, who took over behind
the bench in January when Milbury gave up coaching. "They're
young, but we're no longer rebuilding. We're past that."

However, the best that can be said about the Islanders' offense
is that it is a strong defensive unit too. Right winger Ziggy
Palffy (48 goals, 90 points) is one of the league's most
exciting players, but he has little support--the Islanders were
10-30-7 last season when Palffy didn't score. Free-agent
additions Mike Hough and Sergei Nemchinov will add toughness and
defense at wing and center, respectively, but neither is the
offensive force that New York needs to make the playoffs.

Barring a blockbuster trade, that scorer won't arrive until next
year at the earliest, when Milbury calls his owner and gets him
to ante up for a top-level free agent. Assuming, of course, he
knows who that owner is.