The summer has not been good for the Islanders, even by their standards. With the only major acquisition to a last place team trying to get out already, it seems that every media outlet is decrying the Islanders and their chances in the 2012-13 season. Quite frankly looking at the team it is hard to argue with them. Meanwhile the NHL’s labor situation does not look to be headed for an easy resolution as the league and the players’ association remain far apart on a deal. With all the issues surrounding this team the question is, are the Islanders better off without a 2012-13 season?
Since the failure of the many arena proposals the Islanders have been fairly quiet on their financial situation, but the state of their finances is no secret. Shackled to a terrible lease in a rundown arena with little hope to attract players and little hope for their increasingly small fan base the team has been losing money for years and they certainly are now as well. Cost cutting measures have been evident in recent years as the Islanders have turned their radio broadcasts over to Hofstra University and reduced payroll to the salary floor. In fact only by using the buyout of Alexi Yashin and the dead salary of Rick DiPietro have the Islanders done that. And this year the Islanders have barely tried to even reach the proposed salary floor, still nearly five million below it.
The items that the owners are fighting for seem to be tailor made to help the Islanders and teams like them operate. Lowering or even eliminating the salary floor would allow the Islanders to coast until a time when they decided to spend money. Not allowing players to become unrestricted free agents until they have ten years of service would let the Islanders continue to stockpile high picks as they have been doing and then keep the players from leaving when they become stars. Increasing the teams’ percentage of hockey revenue is good for all teams, but when you are struggling to make a buck like the Islanders it is even more important. Even the owners’ desires to limit the length of player contracts could be seen as a way to prevent any more contracts like the one the Islanders handed to DiPietro (15 years, 67.5 million).
While many teams and the league as a whole would certainly be hurt by a lengthy lockout the Islanders are probably the team that would be harmed the least. The Islanders are going through a rebuild on every level, from the roster to the front office to the business model. All are being shaped not to be successful here and now, but in the future (in particular after 2015). A missed season could mean a lot for Charles Wang and the Islanders. Another year burned off the Coliseum lease and one without the expenses and overhead that have kept the Islanders millions of dollars in the red each season. This season offers very little cause for optimism with the Islanders, so if you are Charles Wang why not join with the other owners and dig in to create a system where real profits can be made?
The NHL as a whole is in no position to deal with losing another season so soon after 2004 and both the players and the owners surely realize that. But in these negotiations it is always the players who have the most to lose in a work stoppage and that leverage is what NHL owners will use to rake the players association over the coals.
Of all the teams and players involved the Islanders have the least to lose and a lot to gain. With almost no hope of hockey or financial success the whole Islanders franchise is in purgatory until 2015 and no matter the result of the negotiations the outcome will benefit the Islanders, whether it is the owners getting what they want or it is the loss of a season.