When I served as the play-by-play voice of the Islanders during the predictably unpredictable dark days of multiple bad ownerships, Mike Milbury's reign of error as General Manager, the revolving door of head coaches, and one last place finish after another there was always one positive thing that could be counted on.
Whenever the Islanders hosted the Rangers at Nassau Coliseum, the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike would be sold out and rocking.
Though attendance at the Coliseum was always fairly lousy in those days, and season ticket holders were few and far between, the joint would be jumping and tickets were impossible to find when the arch rival Rangers paid a visit.
Sadly, not even appearances by the Rangers can fill the old building in Nassau any more. The Rangers have visited the Nassau Coliseum twice already this season, and the arena has not been close to sold out either time.
Back on Columbus Day---keep in mind a Monday day game on a holiday not everyone gets off from work for---the announced crowd was a bit over 11,000, some five thousand short of capacity. And to be honest, it really looked that afternoon that perhaps there were fewer than 10,000 actual bodies in the Coliseum as huge swaths of sections were empty.
Then last Thursday night the Rangers skated on Long Island again and there was good news/bad news for the Islanders. The Good News: the team had its largest single-game attendance of the season. The Bad News: less than 14,000 showed up for the New York-New York "rivalry", still 3,000 short of a sell out.
And I guess I'm piling on here, but only 7,773 were announced in attendance for yesterday afternoon's Sunday matinee with another long-standing rival, the Philadelphia Flyers---which turned out to be the Isles 18th defeat in their last 19 games.
Larry Brooks, the excellent hockey writer for The New York Post, wrote yesterday that the league should intervene and save the Islanders from an owner who has done everything within his power the past several years to gut this franchise of any sense that it belongs in the major leagues. Everything about the Islanders now reaks of minor league---from front office to sales & marketing to public relations to the building to the on-ice product. Owner Charles Wang is spending the minimum amount possible to keep this team alive until its lease expires at the Nassau Coliseum in four years and, presumably, he can move it somewhere else.
While I agree, in part, with Brooks that the league should step in, I would argue that enough is enough and perhaps Gary Bettman et al could help broker an early termination of the lease and end the misery sooner rather than later. Let Wang take his team elsewhere, or sell it to someone who wishes to do the same. Because I do not believe there is anyone in their right mind who would buy the Islanders now and keep them on Long Island. Wang has killed the market, and four more years of this painful slow death is just so cruel to the Islanders Faithful.
Wang's Lighthouse Project for a time made him the people's champion as he tried to get a new arena and bustling entertainment and shopping area built. But without any political support to speak of, the project is dead in the water, and with that, Wang has pulled back on dumping his resources into the team---certainly his business perogative---and the fans have responded to that---as well as the rich ticket prices---by simply not attending Islanders games any more.
I thought I had seen and lived through the worst of it for the Isles back in the '90's and the early part of this decade.
I was wrong. This is worse. Much worse. And it feels like it should finally be the end.
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