Just a few years ago a gathering of NHL owners could be confused for a Bond villain reunion. Leading these Old Mustache Pete’s you had “Dollar” Bill Wirtz who choked the Chicago faithful with pitiful player payrolls, blacking out local games and being a reprehensible owner to the point he was booed during his own moment of silence at the Blackhawks’ season opener after his death. You had two rich businessmen in Len Barrie and Oren Koules who bickered over the last place Tampa Bay Lightning like co-owners of a basement fantasy team leading to one of the most humorously bad seasons by a NHL team in recent memory.
Then you have the Islanders – the team that has had either sub-par or mediocre performances with what some would perceive as bizarre decisions coming from its owner, Charles Wang.
Taking over as part-owner in 2000 and majority owner in 2004, Charles Wang has become something of a legend with hockey decisions such as hiring his team’s active backup goaltender to be the team’s general manager. Giving his franchise netminder a fifteen year contract which ended in a buyout when the netminder received several career ending injuries two years into the deal. Former General Manager Mike Milbury said Wang wanted to try-out sumo wrestlers in net as his goaltenders. Charles Wang also spent several years trying in vain to build something called “The Lighthouse Project” which as far as I can tell may have been a real life Death Star.
The Wang Era
The Wang-owned Islanders have had only two first round playoff exits since the lockout in 2004, and one of the smallest payrolls year-to-year in the cap era. The team also seemed to find itself mired in yearly management dramas with Wang claiming to lose millions of dollars on the team on an annual basis.
The tide on Long Island began to turn in 2009 when the Islanders drafted franchise center John Tavares and slowly assembled a cast of talented young players to surround him with. The Islanders also announced a deal beginning in 2015 to move from its one and only home at the Nassau Colosseum to the modern Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The dawning of a new era for the Islander faithful climaxed this month when it was announced that Wang would sell the team and its assets this off-season to New York businessman Andrew Barroway. Islander fans rejoiced until the initial sale of the Islanders to Barroway was cancelled – leading to lawsuits and rumors of a shadowy deal to an unknown owner group.
Corporate Ethics in the NHL
According to the NY Daily News, the sale of the the Los Angeles Clippers for over two billions dollars led to a price spike after initial negotiations with Wang – who was demanding $548 million dollars from Barroway. This came after Wang and Barroway had an agreed upon a deal for $420 million for the Islanders and it’s assets. Wang apparently felt that he had pulled the trigger too early and sold the team for too little when news of the $2 billion Clippers deal went public. In the middle of this chaos on Aug. 1st, Wang informed Barroway that another unnamed ownership group had purchased the Islanders. This led to a $10 million lawsuit over a break-up fee between Barroway and Wang and a lot of messy legal posturing in the media.
It wasn’t until Aug.19th nearly three weeks later when the news finally broke that the Islanders were in fact sold to a new ownership group led by former Washington Capitals co-owner Jon Ledecky and businessman Scott Malkin.
The Islanders released this statement
A group led by former Washington Capitals co-owner Jon Ledecky and London based investor Scott Malkin has reached a definitive agreement, subject to NHL approval, to purchase a substantial minority interest in the team. Under the terms of the agreement, Charles Wang will continue as majority shareholder and Governor of the Islanders, with the Ledecky/Malkin group transitioning to majority owner in two years.
“We are pleased to have the opportunity to become partners in the New York Islanderswith Charles, and to pursue our shared dream of winning a fifth Stanley Cup for the greatest fans in the NHL,” Mr. Ledecky said.
“I’m thrilled that Jon and Scott have agreed to join me as we start the Islanders’ final year at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum,” Mr. Wang said. “I look forward to a long and successful partnership.”
Like it came from a great noir film
The rumored price for the Islanders sale? Right around the $548 million price Wang was looking for after the Sterling scandal. The sale of the LA Clippers was forced by Sterling being tape recorded saying racist things by his mistress.
Before the scandal the Islanders were valued at $200 to $350 million. After the scandal went public the team and it’s assets sold in the mid $500 million range. The ramifications of this Islanders sale are astronomical as this signals a significant value hike for every major sports franchise in America.
Is the worm turning on the Island?
It seems the best NHL teams begin with a regime change from top to bottom to achieve success. The Chicago Blackhawks became one of the best teams of the modern era with two Stanley Cup wins after “Dollar” Bill had the team taken from his cold dead hands. The Tampa Bay Lightning became one of the best teams in the league once it found stable ownership and stole some of the best minds in hockey for it’s management group.
The Islanders enter this new era with a very odd story. The Islanders enter the season with the beginnings of a new ownership group, a new arena for the 2015-2016 season, and a young team led by a 23-year old superstar. The worm may have finally turned on Long Island.
Wang is still in the picture for the next two years as majority owner and there could be a real possibility of a power struggle developing in this new found Brooklyn Triad. There’s extreme potential for this team to either surge into a perennial top three powerhouse in the Eastern conference or to develop a Taratino’esque corporate Mexican stand-off between the Islanders’ three new owners. Whatever happens the sands of time have shown that every terrible era of a major sports team comes to an end sooner or later. With the dawning of the Wang era in sight, the question becomes what lays on the horizon for the Islanders.
Bubba Lackey enjoys writing about hockey. Bubba Lackey is a doctor of journalism and a master of the Anaconda Vice. You can read more of Bubba Lackey’s ramblings at http://www.bubbalackey.com