Friday, March 20, 2009

Sportsology: NY Islanders need John Tavares badly

By Rick Morris

Courtesy once again of our buddy Russ Cohen at Sportsology, we bring you a column about the pathetic New York Islanders and their quest for a franchise player in the form of this year's consensus #1 draft pick John Tavares.

Interestingly, while the NHL Entry Draft this year doesn't look as feeble as the NFL Draft and NBA Draft crops, it does have one thing in common with the hoops circuit -- the fact that Tavares is a no-brainer #1, similar to Blake Griffin in the NBA this June.

Russ's Rants - Project Islanders - Tavares or Bust
By Russ Cohen

The New York Islanders are at a crossroads. I grew up there, have friends who still live there, and the team is largely irrelevant in the market. They are close to having the worst television ratings in the league (off 37%), their attendance is one of the worst in the league and Forbes ranked them as the 29th most valuable franchise.

They need help and it could be on the horizon. The two most talked-about players in the upcoming draft are the big Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman and the OHL superstar John Tavares. So many people write about Tavares, yet so many of them have never seen him play. I have seen him in action many times and I’m here to tell you that this kid could turn around the fortunes of this franchise.

He broke the OHL scoring record, previously held by former Pittsburgh Penguins forward, Peter Lee. He notched 215 goals. You can’t sneeze at that. He will be 18 at the time of the draft, and if the franchise wants to turn youngsters into Islander fans, then they need to do whatever is humanly possible to acquire this potential superstar center. The kid not only scores, but he wins face-offs and he makes players around him better. He’s been ready for the NHL for two seasons now and he’s chomping at the bit. Hedman could really help the team in the future, but as a defenseman, his impact will be felt on the ice but not at the box office. Mark Streit is a potential Norris Trophy candidate and a solid sign by Islanders GM Garth Snow but he hasn’t changed the fortunes of the franchise and fans don't go out to see him. They won’t flock to see Hedman either.

Why? Here is a short Q and A interview I had with Aaron Cano, a native from Long Island and a long time Farmingdale, NY resident:

Q: When was the last time you bought tickets to an Islanders game?

A: The last time I purchased a ticket for an Islander game was 4 years ago. They were playing the Rangers and my son wanted to see the Islanders lose.

Q: How many years have you been a fan?

A: I have been a long time fan. Since I was in 9th grade, so that is 30 years...Wow.

Q: Why don't you go any longer?

A: I no longer attend for two reasons. First, they have not played competitive hockey for many years and second, the facility where they play has to be the worst in the league.

Q: Do you ever watch them on television? A: I rarely watch them on TV anymore. Maybe when nothing else is on. I mainly watch the highlights on the news, but the news does not even mention them very often.

Long Islanders are an affluent, trendy, yuppie crowd and they are looking for that flash. Tavares can provide that flash and the team can market him the minute they get him, but acquiring him won’t be easy.The team will get their chance in the lottery, but if the ping pong ball doesn’t bounce their way, will they settle for that -- or will they pull out all the stops to try and pry him away from the team that does get the #1 pick?

I personally hope they get him so they can give the fans some hope. But if they have to acquire him, I would trade multiple first round picks and a prospect or two for him. Why would I risk so much? The answer is simple. The franchise can’t wait for the Town of Hempstead to approve or deny the “Lighthouse Project”. The environmental impact statements can be a very lengthy process, and if a decision is to be made in the next year or two, that may be too late. The team could move to Kansas City by then. There is no free agent or any player in the league that they could acquire via a trade to put fannies in the seats, but a solid offensive prospect can do that. I’ve seen it happen before, here, in Philadelphia, when Eric Lindros got a building built and Tavares can do the same thing.The Islanders have already lost a generation of potential new fans for various reasons, but soon, they will have an opportunity to gain a new generation and they can certainly win back some of the others who have stayed away.

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