The Islanders said they needed a hoist, but a boost would be
more like it, the kind you get from signing your best players
and finding a goaltender who doesn't have a sunburn on the back
of his neck from the goal light. Citing an unsafe scoreboard
hoist and other purported structural inadequacies at the Nassau
Coliseum, new owners Howard Milstein and Steven Gluckstern tried
to get out of their lease, which by the way runs through 2015
and offers them no share of concession and parking revenues. But
the courts, backed by engineers who said the arena is sound,
told Milstein and Gluckstern to stay put. One county executive
called the owners "pigs at the trough."
The Islanders are no longer homeless, but if they don't sign
restricted free-agent right wing Zigmund Palffy, they, and their
season, may be pointless. Palffy scored 45 goals last year,
including a league-high 17 on the power play, but take away
Robert Reichel's 25 goals, and nobody who spent a full season on
Long Island last year scored more than 14. Backliners Kenny
Jonsson, 26, and Bryan Berard, 21, lead what could be, in three
or four years, the league's best defense corps. The promising
mix includes 1997 All-Star Scott Lachance; Eric Brewer, the
fifth pick in the '97 draft; and the NHL's biggest player ever,
6'9", 240-pound Zdeno Chara.
The No. 1 goaltending spot falls to Tommy Salo, better known for
catching punches (for example, the highlight-worthy whuppin' by
the Rangers' Dan Cloutier last season) than pucks. Salo is a
tourniquet until 19-year-old phenom Roberto Luongo is ready.
Last month New York held its first Tri-Isle-a-thon. Luongo, who
can't swim, did O.K. in the bobsledding and bowling events, but
he toppled into the lake during the canoe race, and two players
and two trainers had to save the man who is supposed to keep the
Islanders from sinking.
"I believe in this team's future with every ounce of my soul,"
says coach and general manager Mike Milbury. Unfortunately, the
roof will cave in on his season one way or another.
COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT LEVY/B. BENNETT STUDIOS Berard (34), former stellar rookie, has declined. [Bryan Berard being checked]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN TAMANIO [Drawing of golden hockey puck]
The Islanders and the Stanley Cup champion Red Wings were the
most difficult teams to shut out last season. Each was
whitewashed only twice.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
--Center Trevor Linden and defenseman Bryan Berard must
rebound from terrible seasons and become elite players again.
--Ownership needs to sign restricted free-agent holdout Zigmund
Palffy sooner rather than later. No Palffy means no offense--
and no chance--for the Islanders.