Amid the maddening clutter and cluck of the NHL’s third lockout, which is now six weeks old, the Islanders announced plans Wednesday to pull up stakes in Uniondale, N.Y., at the end of the 2014-15 season and do business as, yes indeed, the Islanders — only shifted approximately 23 miles west in Brooklyn.
At a hastily called news conference at the new Barclays Center, team owner Charles Wang and commissioner Gary Bettman were all smiles, handshakes, and backslaps over the abrupt announcement. According to Wang, he signed a 25-year agreement as part of the shift, landing his stick carriers in their news digs for the start of the 2015-16 season.
Provided Wang can’t escape his lease at Nassau Coliseum, his Isles will play their next 123 home games in the quaint but outdated building where Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Billy Smith, and Bryan Trottier clicked off four consecutive Cups (1980-83) under the demanding whistle of Al Arbour. A bad team inside a bad building these last few years proved a prescription for disaster on Long Island, where Wang failed to convince Nassau County voters to approve a humongous land development plan that would have kept his team in place for years, if not decades.
A few random thoughts on the Islanders, their legacy, and now their move:
■ For all their skill, those great Islander squads also were plenty tough, personified by the hulking Clark Gillies. They faced the Bruins in their Cup runs of 1980 and ’83, the latter year a semifinal matchup that the Islanders clinched in six. In 1980, a second-round matchup, Gillies and Terry O’Reilly constantly hammered away at each other, among the very few matchups that left O’Reilly shortchanged for his fisticuffs. The Bruins were eliminated in five, and O’Reilly went home with a face suitable to be sold as a Halloween mask.
■ In a sport known for making its players accessible to the media — to a lesser degree now — Battlin’ Billy Smith was the anomaly, refusing to talk to the media, and even most teammates, on game days. He barely talked to anyone throughout the playoffs. But he was great fun to watch, using his big paddle to chop at the ankles and take out the knees of opposing forwards who dared to venture into his air space. He won the Vezina in 1982 and was the playoff MVP (Conn Smythe) in ’83. Never could he be accused of being affable.
■ No one ever released a puck faster than Bossy, especially on the power play, when he would unload his lethal, short-range slapper. Time and again, watching from the stands, all one would see was a teammate dish Bossy’s way and then the opposing goalie turning to fish the puck out of the net. Brett Hull was cut from the same bolt of lightning. But I give the edge to Bossy. His shots were something from a Vegas magic act.
■ I hope Wang can find an out in his Nassau lease, or pay to get out of it. With the decision made and the papers signed, remaining in Uniondale is just three seasons of decaf cappuccino for everyone involved. The Dodgers knew how to leave Brooklyn. The Islanders need to do a quick “getouttatown” of their own.
■ Unfair for an out-of-towner to tell Nassau residents how they should vote, but they’ll miss their hockey team more than they realize (see: Hartford). That said, had Wang’s team been better in recent years, his megamillion-dollar Lighthouse Project no doubt would have been easier for voters to fund. The Islanders have been to the playoffs only once since 2003-04. Attendance has been low for years. And the glory days are now 30 years gone by. For the few faithful who remain engaged, at least they get to remain connected by traveling to Brooklyn.
■ Overall, smart move by Wang. The rivarly with the Rangers and to a lesser extent the Devils remains in place. But I still hope the league brings the game back to both Quebec City and Hartford, where fans of both teams would have rejoiced if all a move meant was a commute of 23 miles.
New role suits ex-linesman
Dan Schachte called NHL lines for 30 years, retired upon working his last game March 18, and over the summer became Hockey East’s coordinator of officials. The 54-year-old Schachte is thrilled with his career change.
“It was a relief,’’ said Schachte, reached by telephone late last week at his home in Madison, Wis. “I poured everything I had into [the NHL job], and honestly I couldn’t do one more minute of it . . . just physically, I had a little arthritis, some pains here and there . . . it was just absolutely the right time to leave.’’
Initially intrigued by a similar role with the Big Ten, Schachte over the summer spotted an ad for the Hockey East job at US College Hockey Online. He forwarded a résumé to commissioner Joe Bertagna, and the job offer soon followed, Schachte overseeing the league’s four-man administrative staff and a collection of 54 referees and linesmen.
“This job fell right out of the sky and into my lap,’’ said Schachte. “I mean, right out of heaven. I couldn’t be happier.’’
Asked what difference he has noted between college hockey and the pro game, Schachte pointed to player safety being “absolutely paramount’’ to those who guide the NCAA and Hockey East.
“There is a different sense of accountability,’’ opined Schachte. “Like Nathan Horton. [Aaron] Rome knocks Nathan Horton over in the finals. In the National Hockey League, that was dealt with extremely severely, but in college hockey it doesn’t need to get to that level to have that kind of response. They don’t just suspend a guy, they change all the rules. They make the game different. They say, ‘You just can’t do that.’ And to me, that’s the big difference. It’s not such a personal one-on-one kind of thing. It’s more the game changes, we change the game. And that to me is the biggest difference between college and pro.’’
Dream of full schedule dies
The official collective bargaining agreement update is that there is no update, which means the idea has vanished that all 1,230 games will be played in 2012-13. “We gave our very best offer,’’ commissioner Gary Bettman noted. “So, I think things actually in some respects may get more difficult.’’ That’s code for telling the players that the league’s offers will get worse — precisely what happened during the 2004-05 lockout that saw the full season wiped off the map. Not only did the players lose a season’s pay, they also saw existing contracts trimmed by 24 percent when the CBA was finally settled. The Players’ Association asked to meet again on Thursday, but Bettman & Co. said no, given that the players’ side reportedly said it wasn’t willing to accept the owners’ offer in whole or one with slight amendments. In other words, the owners are playing full-contact hockey. They are following the template drawn up by attorney/advisor Bob Batterman, who had the NFL following a similar scorched-player policy until Patriots owner Bob Kraft infused the talks with a kinder, gentler approach. Is there a Kraft clone among the Original 30 owners? You can bet your last roll of black tape it’s not Bruins boss Jeremy Jacobs. Two likely candidates would be Ed Snider in Philadelphia and/or Mike Ilitch in Detroit. But for now, the league is following the course of its hired gun, and the players remain united behind the brothers Fehr, Don and Steve. Either someone with a true love of the game steps in between now and mid-January, or this season is fini.
Open mouth, insert skate
Bruins center David Krejci won the week’s Whoops Award, noting to iSports.cz after a game in the Czech Republic that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, “Treats us like animals.’’ He also said, “We want to play, we’re the ones who are doing the show in the NHL, but Bettman thinks it makes him.’’ A day later, no doubt apprised by friends, family, and maybe even someone on Causeway Street how ungrateful that sounded, the 26-year-old pivot e-mailed Joe Haggerty, Comcast Sports New England’s hockey scribe, and said he regretted words uttered “flippantly’’ after a game. “I did not intend them to be recorded,’’ he wrote. “Specifically, I have been treated very well by the Boston Bruins and wish to confirm that my comments should not reflect on my club in any way. I regret any inference to the contrary.’’ Krejci’s English is not that refined, so someone penned the mea culpa for him. Krejci, by the way, is about to enter his new deal with the Bruins, which is worth just short of $16 million over three years. As animal diets go, that’s no chicken feed. “I like playing in Czech,’’ he added in his e-mail to Haggerty, “but I want to be back in the NHL soon.’’
Free rein for Davidson
They may be short on success, but the Blue Jackets are getting long on decision-makers. The latest is John Davidson, the ex-broadcaster extraordinaire, who came aboard last week as the team’s president of hockey operations. According to club president Mike Priest, JD has a free hand to run the show, technically giving him authority over general manager Scott Howson on all hockey decisions. The Jackets also have Craig Patrick, the former Ranger and Penguin boss, in place as Priest’s senior adviser (a role similar to that of 80-year-old Harry Sinden here in the Hub of Hockey). Davidson helped resurrect the Blues, leaving just weeks ago when he accepted a buyout as part of the club transitioning to new owners. Overall, great pick by Columbus, because Davidson knows the game and is that rare guy in the industry who is as comfortable with the fans and media as he is with players and coaches. He can sell it, something the Jackets need now almost as much as they need wins. The issue will be how he and Howson get along. GMs are hired to make the kind of calls Davidson now has attached to his job description.
The new building in Brooklyn, which also houses the NBA’s Nets, was built for basketball and is not particularly well-suited to hockey. In fact, due to its quirky, hoop-specific design, its capacity will be only 14,500 for hockey. The old Garden maxed out at 14,448, giving way to the new building’s 17,565. Brooklyn is even smaller than Winnipeg’s 15,015 . . . If you can handle salty language, head to YouTube for a hilarious lockout spoof that has two hockey-loving Canadians haggling, NHL- and NHLPA-like, over how to split up a 24-bottle case of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Search: “NHL Lockout explained with beer’’ . . . Congrats to John Wentzell, formerly the Garden president, named to head up Delaware North’s Sportservice unit, including its European operations. Wentzell advances, which will mean a change of residence to Buffalo (Delaware North headquarters), and Amy Latimer takes over his title on Causeway Street. Great move for both, although the loss of Wentzell’s humor and all-around accommodating manner will be dearly missed in the old West End. At its core, the arena business is the hospitality business, and too many buildings in the US and Canada have lost nearly all sense of that . . . Once the sides get around to putting the game back on ice, here’s my vote for abandoning day-of-game practices. Total nonsense. Night games routinely end around 9:30 p.m. For the most part, players arrive at the arena some 12 hours earlier for their day-of-game morning workout. The concept began decades ago to keep players focused, in part to keep them out of strip clubs and drinking saloons at night and away from late-morning cartoons, game shows, and soap operas on TV. That’s your granddaddy’s NHL. It has grown up a lot these last 30 years, except in this nearly obsessive-compulsive ritual. If you can’t trust a guy to stay sober and focused at night or on game day, then maybe you shouldn’t trust him enough to sign him for $3 million-$5 million a year.