Mike Milbury’s New York Islanders
Seven years of futility on Long Island — and why the team is poised to win again.
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There’s no nice way to say it. Over the past six-and-a-half seasons, the National Hockey League’s New York Islanders franchise has been woeful on the ice. During that period the team has compiled a 156-286-62 record [thru 1/25/01], a 35.3% winning percentage—and missed the playoffs six (going on seven) straight years. To the casual observer it appears the once-proud Islanders organization no longer has the ability to assemble a winning hockey club—and that the losing will continue for the forseeable future.
Many claim the Islanders’ troubles on the ice are directly related to the franchise’s turbulent off-ice existence, which has included a recent parade of uncaring and disingenuous owners. Since its last playoff appearance in 1994 the team has been controlled by an absentee owner (John O. Pickett, Jr.), an insolvent owner (John Spano, who was indicted on charges of fraud), and a duo that viewed its purchase primarily as a real estate venture (Howard Milstein and Steven Gluckstern).
With the ownership situation now stabilized—the team was purchased by Sanjay Kumar and Charles Wang last year—management appears committed to restoring a winning tradition that once produced four straight Stanley Cups (1980-83). While the results on the ice have yet to improve and the team is regularly ridiculed in the media for its performance, the vibe in the locker room and corridors of the Nassau Coliseum is anything but negative. The palpable feeling throughout the organization is that happy times are just around the corner.
For the moment, though, the sentiment most commonly expressed by the Islanders players and their diehard fans is “frustration.” And the exasperated fans have chosen to direct their anger at Mike Milbury, who has served as coach, coach/GM or general manager since 1995—voicing their displeasure by chanting “Mike Must Go!” at home games. Among Milbury’s co-workers, the feeling is that the criticism might be unwarranted.