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The Grand Illusion

July 4, 2007, 7:53 AM ET [ Comments]

An examination of the state of Islander Country where fans are upset and outraged, while Isles brass are emailing patience and trust.

B.D. Gallof

Author's note: The following is either satire, hockey prognostication or just errant observations...anything factual or actually insightful is unintended

Islander fans have been making their discontent known since the UFA debacles of earlier this week. Many have blanketed the Islanders ticket office bewildering staff as they attempt to cancel season tickets or complain. At one point, all was left via phone was an answering machine.

Most of my own opinion on the matter is not outrage, but mere reflection with a wait and see attitude. There are still those out there that would round out the Islander team nicely. However I am concerned about several key issues:

The Free-Agent Price Whine:

Garth Snow has made statements that they are not willing to overpay, and have thought some of the signing this UFA period are out of control.

We all know it is overpayment...but market price and market dictate those prices. And despite this lip service and tremendous amount of spin per Garth...Isles made the following contract offers...


They also seem to have had feelers out for Kariya and Hamrlik.

So for a team coming up empty and getting outbid...complaining about the bull market is definitely in their interest of spin. The hard truth is that if the Isles don't keep up and pay market value they simply will not get anyone on their key list of those type of players they are looking for.

Simply a matter of fact since other teams will offer more because other teams are in same boat. Look at how the LA Kings rebounded. Lombardi recovered with many key signings that have rounded out their team, and might make a play for a goaltender soon.


However, the biggest and more often of fan complaints are usually tied into that the Islanders are a playoff caliber team. And this false albatross is completely skewing fan perception. Isles back into the playoffs, and have a lot of work to do to get to that level. They are NOT that team...and that false perception were also held by Snow and the committee, and due to that they made deals of OVERPAYMENT during that crazy trade deadline, where there was no talk from Garth Snow then that he was "surprised" then, my friends.

No, then he knew what things cost because they had decided to offer O'Mara, Nilsson and a 1st rounder to Guerin....who got dealt elsewhere...then Edmonton and Kevin Lowe came a calling...and the rest is this fantasy that people have of where Ryan Smyth rides off into a sunset of the Isles being lifted out of the muck...and birds sing, and victory dances break out across a refurbished Uniondale.

Did not happen. Because a fantasy is exactly what it was.

UFA Truths

The cold hard truth is that the attempt at signing Smyth, who never wanted to be dealt to LI, was a huge longshot based on a previous overpayment mistake at deadline. That the Isles bought into a fantasy and got burned. They got sucked into the grand illusion. So they have had a re-examination of how to proceed, probably with a lot of Nolan weighing in...with a complete refocusing on key cogs who are within price structure and in a certain template.

Behind the Scenes

One man who not many know about in the Isles system is Dr. Frank Gardner...their sports psychologist. His role is about sports performance and building a winning mentality. He was brought in by Neil Smith...having worked together for the cup winning 1994 Ranger team. He and Smith came up with the computer program that measures certain factors, personality test to get players who are winners.

There is NO doubt in my mind that his work on Yashin last season is what created that huge boon. However, along the way, Yashin blew out mentally and regressed. So it goes. Now they have cut ties.

Back to Basics

So, now they look for key guys who fall within their desires to fit a certain template. No more mistakes. No more overpayment. A lesson has been learned, perhaps, by Mr. Wang, who had to buyout his last grand illusion, and have watched player after player get signed to huge contracts. The Isles still take a 20 million loss per year. So its not a big leap to realize that their refocus is to simply get back to basics....

Key players:
With winning mentality. No Yashins.

Key projects:
Who they can get under value where Nolan can work with them to bloom.

Key contracts:
That run under market or at market, not over.

And as a result of this re-examination and sudden change of heart where their contract offers get rebuffed, or trade offers fall flat due to a player not wanting to waive his NTC...is the very kernel of reality that other very bright men have already stated on this website and elsewhere...

They will be fighting once again for a playoff spot tooth and nail.

Trade Talk

My biggest issue with any trade that Snow does now is that they are offsetting a previous mistake last season by probably having to give up too much. So the mistake compounds. So if Okposo, Comeau, Hunter or Bergenheim changes hands (unless the Isles get a young gun of high caliber)...it is a compounded failure where the committee and Snow's grand illusion cost them far more than just O'Mara, Nillson and a 1st round (which would have been Esposito). The grand illusion will only continue if they think that trading a limited coffer will suddenly make them playoff ready and running for a cup.

So LI fans have fallen to earth, as have Isles brass, and a retooling is happening. Some trades are on tap. But do not be suckered into the grand illusion. They have their work cut out for them. But with a bit of patience and reality, they might be building a winner albeit slower than fan expectations and their own. What has made it so much harder to swallow is to watch division teams get stronger. Philly, Rangers, Pittsburgh have all become stronger teams.

The tough got tougher and mistakes have cost. But nobody seems to be admitting any mistakes thus far.
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