Islanders Similarities With The New York Mets

The New York Mets improbable run to the World Series has captivated the Big Apple. The New York Islanders can look to “The Amazins” for inspiration. In fact, the teams have a lot more in common than just the blue and orange or Howie Rose. The Mets will head to Kansas City to open the World Series. There was a time when most people thought the Islanders were headed to Kansas City for good.

(Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)
Josh Bailey, one of the many first-round picks by the Isles

Homegrown Talent

The Mets, like the Islanders,  can look to their farm system as one of the reasons for their success. The Mets have four of their own first-round picks (David Wright, Matt Harvey, Kevin Plawecki and Michael Conforto) and two other first-round picks (Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud) who have made their MLB debut with the Mets on 25-man roster. In fact 14 of the 25 players, including NLCS MVP Daniel Murphy, have been brought up through the Mets system.  The Isles rebuild has brought six first-round picks (Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, John Tavares, Calvin de Haan, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome) to the current roster and 9 of the 12 forwards home grown. Another first-round pick, defenseman Ryan Pulock, currently with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers is expected to make his NHL debut shortly.

The Moves You Do Not Make

Fresh off their first playoff appearance in six years, the Islanders struggled in the 2013-14 season. They had two impending unrestricted free agents, forward Thomas Vanek, acquired earlier in the season for Matt Moulson, and defenseman Andrew MacDonald. After turning down offers, both ended up getting traded at the deadline. Vanek was sent packing to Montreal for prospect Sebastian Collberg and a second-round pick, which ended up being part of a deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning to move up in the 2014 Draft and select Joshua Ho-Sang. The Philadelphia Flyers took MacDonald off the Islanders hands for two draft picks, one of which, the 2015 second-rounder was included in the Johnny Boychuk trade at the start of last season. The Flyers somehow gave MacDonald a 6-year contract, yes a 6-year contract worth $30 million dollars. 18 months later the Flyers waived MacDonald and are on the hook for remaining 5 years.  The Islanders acquired the rights to defenseman Dan Boyle from the San Jose Sharks prior to the 2014 free agency period. The two could not agree on a contract and Boyle signed with the New York Rangers.  Had all three players (Vanek, MacDonald, Boyle) signed with the Isles, they would not have Mikhail Grabovski or Nikolay Kulemin, and Boychuk or Nick Leddy.

The Mets, in search for another bat to compete with the then first place Washington Nationals thought they acquired one in Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez. The Mets were going to send shortstop Wilmer Flores and pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to the Brewers. Thinking the deal was done, Mets fans gave Flores a standing ovation in what they thought was his final at-bat as a member of the Mets. Most if not all players are removed from the game when deals are close or completed. Flores came back out to the field and was clearly emotional.  The deal never happened. Apparently the Mets had concerns over Gomez’s hip. A few days later the Mets acquired Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers for two pitching prospects. The deal sparked the Mets as Cespedes hit 17 home runs, had 44 RBI and hit .287 in 57 games.

Playing Not To Play

The oft-injured Rick DiPietro

Both teams are still paying retired players and will be for quite some time. The Islanders drafted goaltender Rick DiPietro first overall in the 2000 draft.  DiPietro played very well for the Isles after becoming their number one goaltender. He appeared 143 games in his first four seasons. The Islanders locked him up to a 15-year contract worth $67.5 million dollars. Injuries then set in and Rick could never regain his all-star form. He would play in 175 games over the final 7 years of his career. He was bought out of his contract in the summer of 2013. Under the buyout terms, DiPietro will get two-thirds ($24 million) of the $36 million dollars he is owed. The payments would be spread out over twice the length of the remaining eight years of the contract. He will receive $1.5 million dollars a year until 2029.

Outfielder Bobby Bonilla had two colorful stints with the Mets. The first, was thanks to a 5-year contract worth $29 million dollars signed prior to the 1992 season. Bonilla hit 91 home runs and was a two-time all-star in his three and a half seasons in Queens.  He also had run ins with the media and even the offical scorer. Bonilla was traded in 1995. He was reacquired in 1999 and while the Mets were being eliminated from the playoffs, Bonilla was in the clubhouse playing cards with Rickey Henderson. He was released following the season but the team still owed him $5.9 million dollars. Bonilla and his agents asked the Mets to deferred his salary for 11 years and then pay him $1.19 million a year starting in 2011. Mets owner Fred Wilpon agreed to it, figuring that he could make more money investing the $5.9 million with a guy named Bernie Madoff. That backfired and every July 1st until 2035 Bobby Bonilla gets over a million dollars from the Mets. Six years after the Islanders buyout with DiPietro ends.

The Little Brother Complex

The New York/New Jersey area has nine professional teams in the big four leagues. The established teams (Yankees, Knicks, Giants, Rangers) and the so-called little brother teams (Islanders, Jets, Mets, Nets, Devils). The little brother teams do not receive the same media attention or have as big a fan base as the established. New York’s attention is now focused on the Mets.  This is their first trip to the World Series since the Subway Series of 2000. If the Mets win the World Series it will be their third since joining MLB in 1962 and first since the memorable 1986 World Series. The Yankees have won 27 championships since they were established in 1901.

This is where baseball and hockey are different. There are a ton of New Yorkers who simply change the shade of blue on their baseball cap when a certain team is doing well. Many Met fans became Yankee fans back in 1996 and stayed with the pinstripes until a couple of weeks ago. Those Yankee fans were Met fans during the 1986 playoffs. There are also many who simply “root for New York”. You do not see that in hockey. You did not see one Islander fan shift allegiances when Mark Messier hoisted the cup in 1994 nor did you see any “root for New York” when the Rangers were battling the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. The Rangers and the Islanders both have won four Stanley Cups. The Rangers have one in the last 75 years while the Islanders have four since 1980. The New York Islanders, now in Brooklyn, closer to the New York Rangers than ever can briefly take over the city with a New York Mets type of run in the spring.