Further dumping of salaries will make the lowly Islanders even
After enduring five straight playoffless seasons and seeing
their team undermined by penny-pinching ownership and poor
management, Islanders fans might feel as if they've paid their
dues. Not yet. Club president John Sanders says, "We're
committed to building a team around prospects," which means that
in 1999-2000 New York has little chance of improving on this
season's abysmal 24-48-10 record. To the Islanders' faithful,
harkening back to the four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 to
'83 has gotten old.
Sources say New York will enter next season with a payroll of
about $16 million, $8 million less than in 1998-99. (The
expansion Predators had the NHL's lowest payroll this year,
$13.7 million.) Last week the disintegration of the Islanders
continued when they traded 29-year-old captain Trevor Linden to
the Canadiens for the 10th pick in the June 26 draft. Linden, a
restricted free agent, made $2.5 million last season. Now New
York is shopping right wing Ziggy Palffy, one of the league's
premier goal scorers, whom they signed to a five-year, $25
million contract in December. The Islanders plan to deal Palffy,
who had 22 goals in 50 games last season, before the draft in
hopes of landing a package that includes cheap talent and a high
pick to complement their first-round selection (No. 5) and the
one they acquired for Linden. Other well-paid Islanders may also
be shipped out.
"If the organization gets a new building and gets sorted out at
the top, it could be a great team to play for," says Linden, who
was acquired from the Canucks in February 1998 for two young
players and a draft choice. Yes, and with balmy breezes and
fruit-bearing trees, the Arctic could be a great place to live.
New York's lease at Nassau Coliseum gives the team little
revenue from advertising and ticket sales and provides no money
from concessions. The Islanders claim they lost $20 million last
season, even though their local cable television package is
worth some $12 million a season, one of the most lucrative in
hockey. Discussions with Nassau County to build a new arena have
stalled, but even if construction began today, the arena would
not be finished for at least four years.
New York's strategy for appealing to what's left of its
season-ticket base (6,000 last season) hinges on a future that
includes 20-year-old junior goalie Roberto Luongo, who's
regarded as the top prospect in the world. Even if he lives up
to his promise, which many young netminders fail to do, Luongo
can't right the Islanders by himself; the numerous draft choices
the Islanders have collected will most likely need seasoning
before they are ready for the NHL. In other words, for the
already disheartened Islanders fans, relief is nowhere in sight.
Stanley Cup Schedule
A CHANGE FOR THE BETTER
To enhance its showcase event, the NHL should consider changing
the scheduling format for the Stanley Cup finals. Instead of the
2-2-1-1-1 system in use for the best-of-seven series, the league
should go to a 2-3-2 format in which the higher-seeded team
plays the first two and last two games at home. Changing the
schedule for the Cup finals would cut down on travel at the end
of the long and grinding playoff road, enabling players to be
more rested and to play better. Less travel also would save
money for teams and for the league, which sends a cadre of
personnel to the finals.
The NHL used the 2-3-2 system in the 1984 and '85 finals, and in
both years the Oilers split the first two road games--against
the Islanders and the Flyers, respectively--then came home and
swept three at Northlands Coliseum. League executives were so
spooked that the team with the home ice advantage got eliminated
before getting a chance to host a lucrative third game that they
re-verted to the 2-2-1-1-1 format.
The current schedule ensures that the higher seed gets an extra
home date even if a series lasts only five games. Having the
home ice advantage in the postseason, though, has proved
irrelevant to success. Through the first three rounds in this
year's playoffs, the home team won only 39 of 79 games. The big
advantage for the host club is at the gate; an extra game can be
worth millions in revenue. To overcome that, the NHL could
devise a revenue-sharing system if the higher-seeded team loses
out on a home match.
THE FUTURE LOOKS GOOD
Whether or not the Sabres upset the Stars in the Stanley Cup
finals, which began on Tuesday, Buffalo is undeniably the NHL's
organization of the year. In addition to the Sabres having
reached the finals with a relatively modest $28 million payroll
(Dallas's tab: $42 million), their American Hockey League
affiliate, the Rochester Americans, is in the Calder Cup finals
against the Providence Bruins. "We're thrilled by Rochester's
success because it's essential," says Buffalo general manager
Darcy Regier. "We're intent on keeping our food chain alive."
The Sabres, a money-losing team, must rely on talent development
rather than free agency to upgrade its roster. In Buffalo's 4-2
series-clinching win over the Maple Leafs in the Eastern
Conference finals last week, each Sabres goal was scored by a
Rochester alumnus: Curtis Brown, Vaclav Varada, Erik Rasmussen
and Dixon Ward. This year's Americans have several top
prospects, including 21-year-old goalie Martin Biron (AHL-best
2.07 goals-against average) and 20-year-old defenseman Cory
Sarich. Given Rochester's achievements, expect the Sabres to be
Cup contenders for years to come.
COLOR PHOTO: B. WINKLER/B. BENNETT STUDIOS Palffy, one of the league's top goal scorers, may be the next high-priced Islander to go.
COLOR PHOTO: GLENN JAMES Vets like Claude Lemieux would benefit from a finals schedule with less travel.
This Date in Playoff History
JUNE 14, 1994
CANUCKS VS. RANGERS
New York broke the longest championship drought in NHL history
by defeating Vancouver 3-2 in Game 7 of the finals to win its
first Stanley Cup since 1940. Mark Messier's goal at 13:29 of
the second period was the clincher. As Rangers center Craig
MacTavish sealed the victory by winning a face-off with 1.6
seconds to play, a spectator in Madison Square Garden raised a
sign that spoke volumes for New York's long-suffering fans: NOW
I CAN DIE IN PEACE.