Friday, August 26, 2011

Devils switch to tiered pricing for home games

In the last few years, ticket buying and ticket selling has changed dramatically with the boom of the secondary market and more and more teams responding to that by going to tiered pricing. What tiered pricing is, in a nutshell, is when a ticket for the same seat is priced differently depending on the game. Rivalry and weekend games, as well as special promotions (say, Retro Night for the Devils) are more likely to sell out than mid-week games against a second-division team from the other conference. Quite frankly, teams like the Devils that don't sell out every game need a system like this to help maximize profits on the marquee games and sure enough, a few days ago they announced they were implementing such a system for the first time.

Considering the Devils have seventeen different price sections(!) I'm going to explain it as simply as possible by using the sections I know best - the Brown which is the extreme upper corners, the Green which is the rest of the upper bowl and the Aqua which I'm sitting in now in the mezzanine. Each team has 44 home games in a year, including three preseason games. Of the 41 regular-season games, ten now fall into the Premier Game category, which include all three Ranger and Flyer games, two Penguin games (all the Flyer and Penguin games are on weekends including Retro Night) and also a game against the Caps just before Christmas and a weekend afternoon game against the Habs earlier in December. Premier games will get price hikes. In the Green section, last year's single-game and season ticket costs were $37 and $30, respectively. Now they're $45 and $41 for those ten games.

For the twenty-one classic games, they're basically priced the same single game and season ticket prices that they were last year, except in the Brown section which saw significant overall increases on single-game tickets since that's no longer a $10 ticket section. While the Devils claim (via Facebook) they will still have $10 gameday tickets, the details are still unknown as to how, how many or where. On their chart, they now list the Brown section - which didn't have very many tickets available anyway - as $35 for the Premier games, $27 for Classic and $20 for the last category, so those tickets will be available to the general public before the day of game.

And the remaining ten regular season games as well as the three preseason contests fall into the '30th Anniversary Special' column. Those games will in fact be worth less than they were last year, and considering neither the Devils nor sth's trying to sell these games were able to get anywhere close to face value for these type of games (all of the regular season games here are Monday-Thursday) this was a neccesary change imo. As was the wide margin between gameday prices and sth prices. Amazingly, my new seats in the Aqua section are priced $52 at the box office but they only cost $12 to the season ticket holder.

Over the last few days on various message boards, I've read so many misconceptions about this new system among Devil fans it's mind-boggling. Refuting point by point:

1) We (single-ticket purchasers) are being priced out of the building with all of these increases! No you're not...the price went up for exactly ten games, and down for ten games as well. For three-quarters of home games, the prices either stayed flat or went down for day of game purchasers. If you're being priced out of the building because you purchased only the best games at box office price or in a partial plan, well that just proves the Devils' point that those games are valued more and more people want them. If you think the Devils are overcharging for these games, take a look at StubHub or TicketExchange for these games, prices will still be way above what the Devils are charging. As one poster on NJDevs summed up succinctly 'If the Devils don't price games this way, the secondary market will do it for them'. There will still be a secondary market if you don't want to pay the Devils' prices for games, and likely you'll be able to get tickets there at comparable or lower values to face for half the games.

2) It's not fair that some games are worth more than others! How is it not fair when you see tiered pricing in all walks of life? You think it's an accident that plane trips and hotel rooms cost more over the holidays? Or that a meal in a fancy restaurant in Manhattan costs ten times as much as the same dish would in a dinky small-town restaurant? It's quite frankly good business and to be honest, the Devils did this fairer than most teams would. They didn't hide a total ticket price increase in a readjustment of the prices, season ticket holders didn't get their invoices upped and day of game purchasers got discounts on 1/4 of the games from last year and flat prices for half of them.

3) This is the silliest one yet, that somehow season ticket holders still paid the same price for every game, so the value of the ticket didn't change at all. On an average that's true, since the Devils structured their prices in a way where it's really not any different than paying the 'Classic' price for all 41 games. My tickets in the Aqua section were $22 per game, but now only half the seats are actually valued at that - but the total still comes out to exactly $22 a game if you factor in my ten Premier games at $35 and thirteen (including preseason) Special games at $12. Psychologically it feels better to waste only $12 on preseason games as opposed to the $22 average and makes it easier to resell the non-essential regular season games at close to cost. It doesn't matter too much what the Premier prices are, since I'm either going to those games anyway or will still be able to resell them at a profit or face at worst if I have to.

4) As far as eliminating or redistributing the $10 tickets go, I admit I could care less about doing away with the $10 line since I never really had a need for it. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for having a set amount of affordable tickets for college students and younger fans and am glad the Devils are apparently keeping some $10 seats available. However, from what I've heard in a secondhand fashion about the $10 line, it seemed like it was more trouble than it was worth - especially for the limited number (between 100 and 200) of tickets available. Both because you literally had to stand outside for hours to get tickets to a regular season game and because the line itself wasn't well-policed and there was rampant cutting and 'saving spaces' involved, particularly for the bigger games. If anything, the Devils and the fans would be better off just having an online lottery or some other way of selling $10 tickets that didn't involve chicanery. Maybe make that an extension of College Night where if you have a college ID you could purchase those tickets to any game on the day of the game.

5) The Devils took care of people that were able to give them a couple grand up front (i.e. season ticket holders) but took a dump on the little people. While I've already explained the fallacy of the latter, the fact is season ticket holders DESERVE special consideration. We're not all born with silver spoons. Honestly, it's good business to take care of your most loyal customers. I've been all over the Devils in recent years as the value of the sth anywhere outside of the Brown section - which is still $15 on average for season ticket holders, with a tiered system of $20-15-11 - had been devalued significantly.

Between the $10 line, a boatload of team discounts/ticket giveaways, the secondary market devaluing sales of tickets that were $30 and up face value and having to pay normal price for preseason games, the market had tilted heavily towards getting tickets on the secondary market and waiting for discounts to get a better price than season ticket holders got. How was that fair exactly?! I can't say how many times I've heard my fellow sth's in the green section complain that there were discounts for even special games while they got left holding the bag paying more for their ticket.

However, lowering the prices for preseason and the least desirable regular season games help the sth significantly in reselling them. True, the Devils take a chunk out of your profit if you were looking to unload the premier games but real season ticket holders as opposed to broker wannabes will want to go to most of those games anyway. Not to mention giving season ticket holders the ability to purchase any game at sth cost at any time throughout the season helps both the sth and fans who may not have the means to become an sth but want cheap tickets in the building. If you want to get tickets for the best games or really inexpensive tickets for the non-marquee ones, I suggest that non-STH's buddy up with an STH real fast lol.

That kind of arrangement helps the Devils too, as they're able to pawn off additional tickets that are not going to sell at face and get some money out of it. Every ticket in the upper deck and behind the net in the mezzanine section is $21 and below for season ticket holders to the Special games, there are still affordable seats. If after all this you still think pricing is unfair, talk to my fellow Ranger fan blogger about their pricing. We don't have it that bad, folks.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Mixed Bag: Drury, Islanders, Zajac, Rick Rypien

With less than 10 days left in August, hockey's around the corner with Traverse City getting underway in the second week of September, just as the U.S. Open finishes. Yes, I'm a huge tennis fan who follows the grand slams and can't wait for it to kick off next week. Once the first ball is served, you know our sport's finally on deck. By show of hands, who can't wait? The #IsItOctober trend on Twitter's been increasing by the minute. For yours truly, it's all about September with the big prospect tournament that MSG airs along with training camps and preseason.

With the NFL also two weeks away with the first Sunday set on the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11, it's going to have extra significance for everyone. There's so much going on that Opening Night will be here before you know it. Personally, this is my favorite time of year with summer fading away while leaves change colors and school restarts. That might not be so thrilling for some of you. But I'm becoming a substitute teacher and am looking forward to a new challenge just as our hockey teams prepare for their own.

A lot's happened lately. So, let's try to cover it:

1.Chris Drury Retires- For most observers, it isn't a surprise that one of America's finest hockey players called it a career due to a chronic knee issues. Of course, it came after the Rangers bought our former captain out, clearing room. Whatever happened to Dru the past two years, it's easy to forget that he was one of our best performers in Years 1-2, averaging a shade over 23 goals with nearly half the production on the power play while also averaging over 56 points. Sure. It wasn't the 37 markers or 69 points the former Little League World Series Trumbull, Connecticut hero put up in his final season in Buffalo- haunting us with a tying goal in Game Five. However, what gets lost is that was his best statistical year, coming on a much more talented squad that advanced to its second consecutive Conference Final. Drury was never about stats but rather intangibles like winning faceoffs, outhustling opponents on the PK and making the right play. Don't forget he had a knack for scoring big goals as a good chunk (47 of 255 goals) backs up. The Avalanche don't win a second Cup without Captain Clutch. A hardworking, well respected player loved by teammates and peers, who poured overwhelming support last week. Over 12 seasons, he handled himself like a true professional. The 615 points (255-360-615) in 892 games are a good measuring stick for any third round pick, originally drafted by Quebec in '94 (72nd overall). I think everyone will agree that if Brandon Dubinsky or Ryan Callahan come close to those figures, the Rangers just might not wait another 37 years for Cup No.5. Congrats to Chris Drury on an outstanding career!

2.Islanders- No matter what they're involved in, chaos is the buzz word when it comes to the Islanders. So, Charles Wang's referendum failed. For now, the Isles were supposed to concern themselves with the upcoming '11-12 season, commemorating the franchise's Forty Year Anniversary. One which is filled with promise thanks to a young nucleus led by John Tavares. Instead, the Isles found themselves mixed up in another controversy involving one of their Top 10 games last season. This past Friday, they were expected to hold a Viewing Party to air the club's 9-3 melee-induced 2/11 win over the Penguins. However, due to opposition from a Pens blog and even the league, the organization decided against showing the bloodshed. Instead, they substituted one of their most exciting wins over the Sabres that occurred two days later- a 7-6 treat that featured a hat trick from Calder runner-up Michael Grabner, who finished third behind Jeff Skinner and Logan Couture. It's understandable why there was some resentment to showing such a game. While it was quite entertaining with Jack Capuano's club exacting revenge on the Pens for their cheap antics in a prior match that included laughing from the Pittsburgh bench after Rick DiPietro was concussed by Brent Johnson, the general consensus is that they went overboard- turning the third period into a circus. Given the sensivity to violence, the Islanders made the right decision here. Besides, the combined 13 goals in what was a seesaw battle between two Battle rivals, was a better game.

3.Travis Zajac Injury- The Devils were dealt a significant blow when it was learned that top center Travis Zajac tore his achilles during a training session. He's expected to miss at least the first month and possibly half of November. Considering the club's recent history with injuries, figure the Devs to use caution, which could mean Zajac doesn't return until December. How that impacts them under new coach Pete DeBoer remains to be seen. Considering that they subtracted Brian Rolston to save cap space, New Jersey is pretty thin up the middle with Patrik Elias probably shifting to center the top line. Elias has had success there and could find chemistry with a healthy Zach Parise, who's in his final year before potentially testing the market. The question is how will DeBoer handle the loss. Last year, Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk couldn't co-exist. It probably makes sense to split them up, balancing out the lines. If say you keep complement Nick Palmeiri with Kovalchuk and substitute Dainius Zubrus, it would allow Elias and Kovalchuk to perhaps team with David Clarkson, who could provide the meat and potatoes while Swede connection Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby remain on the third line. That assumes Clarkson reestablishes himself. Keep an eye on prospect Adam Henrique, who should get an extended look with Zajac out.

4.The NHL is mourning the loss of Rick Rypien, who was found dead at his Alberta home last Monday. The popular tough guy, who took on all comers despite his smallish 5-11, 190 pound frame, had battled demons off the ice. He took a leave of absence nine months ago to address personal issues. At age 27, another extended member of our family is gone too soon with many questions left as to why. That it came three months after Ranger enforcer Derek Boogaard passed away due to a mix of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone, has raised concerns about player mental health. Rypien had dealt with depression. It's unfair to compare the untimely deaths of Boogaard and Rypien even though they were basically the same age with the Boogey Man passing away at 28. The former Canuck was excited to be returning to Manitoba where he starred for the Moose under current Winnipeg Jets Assistant GM Craig Heisinger. Like Boogaard, his death was a shock to the hockey community. To hear Vancouver GM Mike Gillis tell it, it sounded like Rypien was improving.

"Over the course of the last three seasons, we participated in a variety of different initiatives with him and we were all really close with him," Gillis expressed last Tuesday in Toronto. "We had an understanding of what we thought was going on and had a number of outside agencies involved in assisting us, and we felt we were on course.

We felt he was making progress in a lot of different areas. When he signed with Winnipeg, we were all really happy for him."

It's extremely difficult to think that two players we watched and cheered for are gone. The NHL definitely must put more emphasis on finding out why these tragedies happened. It's not good for the league and sports as a whole. Anxiety and Depression are serious issues that we are seeing more and more of with players taking time off to try to address these matters. Whether it's Substance Abuse or Mental, we tend to forget that these are people just like us with everyday problems. The more we learn, the better each league will be at helping treat their employees. Preventing future tragedies should be priority. Here's hoping things improve to the point where we don't have to eulogize another stunning death. Life's too short.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Zajac tears achilles, out three months (at least)

This is what technology has done for us...during a boring day at work, I was surfing the internet on my phone and came across a Devils tweet that said 'Zajac had successful surgery to repair a torn achilles'. WHAT?!?!?! I could do nothing but roll my eyes and shake my head. Yes, the same Travis Zajac that played in 401 consecutive games somehow managed to tear his achillies in off-season training and will now need three months to heal, and with the Devils' track record in rehabbing guys recently (think: Zach Parise, David Clarkson, Paul Martin) bet on it being longer. The only good news is that the first month and a half is before the season, but that's also time you lose getting into shape for the season and you have to rehab on the fly.

There is no understating how big this loss is, Zajac was the team's top center and was competent to good in all areas of the game (offense-defense-faceoffs). To lose him even if it was for only half the season may mean the difference between the Devils being a sure playoff bet and being a borderline eight seed - at best. Although GM Lou Lamoriello said at this point he has no plans to bring anyone in for tryouts or in a trade, with over $5 million in cap space plus the amount saved on the cap from Zajac going on LTIR the Devils could and should eventually make a move...if the budget isn't factoring in. This might be the biggest acid test yet to see whether the Devils are in fact rebuilding and cutting costs.

If the Devils really do have another non-playoff or even borderline playoff year it also hurts their chances of retaining star winger Parise. Of course that's a secondary concern at the moment since there's still the 2010-11 season to be played. But with the black cloud of Parise's contract already hanging over us, now this injury to Zajac is the lightning and thunder we didn't need before the coming rainstorm.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Doughty, Selanne lead remaining FA's, Devs/Rangers go young on D

Believe it or not, there are 16 days left in August. That means hockey's around the corner. It still is offseason with some names still lingering around like former Ranger captain Chris Drury, who hopes to get a tryout somewhere. That's probably the best bet. While some familiar faces like Alex Kovalev and Nikolai Zherdev have left for the KHL, vets like Cory StillmanSergei Samsonov, Marek SvatosMarty Turco, Bryan McCabe, Craig Rivet, Nick Boynton, John Madden, Jarkko Ruutu, Mike GrierBrian Sutherby, Ethan Moreau, Steve Staios and Paul Mara are still available. Finnish Flash Teemu Selanne won't decide if he's returning until September. American hero Mike Modano still hasn't retired.

There are also key restricteds with Drew Doughty still the main headliner. One of the game's bright stars on the blueline, still hasn't come to terms with the Kings on a new contract. Considering what Shea Weber was awarded, it probably didn't help, even though Doughty has hardly achieved that lofty status. Something will get done. Our guess is the closer it gets to camp, they'll work something out. Other Group II's of not are Winnipeg's Zach Bogosian, Toronto's Luke Schenn, the Isles' Josh Bailey, Chicago's Chris Campoli and the Yotes' Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker.

Two players who were signed by the Hudson rivals are both defensemen added for depth. The Devils signed ex-King Peter Harrold to a one-year two-way deal. Considering the Devs' youth transition, figure Harrold to spend his time in Albany. Meanwhile, the Blueshirts signed former Senator Brandon Bell for essentially the same reason. With Steve Eminger re-signed and the likes of Mike Del Zotto, new Ranger Tim Erixon, plus hopefuls Pavel Valentenko and Tomas Kundratek, Bell should be ticketed for Connecticut.

Indeed, both the Devils and Rangers are now on a similar path with youth served on the back end. New Jersey boasts No.1 pick Adam Larsson, who's expected to step into the top four. There's also Andy Greene, Mark Fayne, Matt Taormina, Mark Fraser and Matt Corrente- plus hopefuls Alexander Urbom, Tyler Eckford and Eric Gelinas. That doesn't include American prospect Jon Merrill, who the club selected in Round Two a year ago. He's one to keep an eye on.

While the Devils re-load with key cogs Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder vital to any success, the Blueshirts again will not boast a D over 30 thanks to the core of Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Mike Sauer. With Eminger the elder statesman at 27, the Rangers are banking on a turnaround from Del Zotto and key acquisition Erixon to round out one of the league's youngest bluelines. Figure Valentenko and Kundratek to provide stiff challenges in camp while Bell looks to impress brass. Others to watch for are Sam Klassen, Lee Baldwin and Jyri Niemi, with the latter two taking part in Traverse City next month. Former No.1 Dylan McIlrath will also be included.

Factoring in the up and coming Islanders, youth will be served in the metro area for the future.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Miller passes up North Dakota for Plymouth

J.T. Miller decided to take the quicker route to the NHL. The New York Rangers' 2011 first round selection will pass up a full athletic scholarship to North Dakota. Instead, the 15th overall pick from East Palestine Ohio, who signed with the Blueshirts on July 28 will opt to play for the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this Fall.

The 18-year old has his eyes on becoming a Blueshirt earlier than expected. Assuming the Team USA leading scorer, who posted five goals and eight assists for 13 points in helping lead our country to the 2011 IIHF U-18 World Junior Championship (WJC) in Germany- adjusts well in the OHL, he could be developing in Connecticut by next year. In fact, Miller and the Ranger organization could've went that route once he signed but that would work against the current CBA, which states that any AHL experience would count towards an entry level deal. Aside from that, it would've been rushing him.

If Miller feels skipping a well respected hockey program like the Fighting Sioux won't hinder his development, then I support his decision. Even if I'm a bit skeptical considering my excitement about UND. As we get to see daily on the other side of the Hudson with Devil tandem Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, North Dakota has a good reputation. I just hope it's for the best.

Also noteworthy, Miller made the first cut for Team USA at their pre-summer Junior Camp for this winter's WJC. In fact, they're taking on Sweden right now. The Swedes lead 2-zip after one. For full coverage, check back on the official Team USA Hockey site. I'll try to update later or perhaps tomorrow.

Anyway, I did find some cool highlights from a game versus Russia in which JT lit the lamp twice. He definitely has some wheels and knows where to go to score. Hopefully, Garden Faithful will get to see a lot more of that in the future.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Avery Arrest not encouraging sign

Sean Avery is a lot of things. Up till this past weekend, one of the NHL's bad boys had never been in trouble off the ice. The controversial Ranger antagonist was arrested for pushing a cop while at his Hollywood Hills home in California Friday.

A complaint about the noise level during a party at around 1 AM brought the LAPD to Avery's door. According to a report, he answered but shoved the cop before slamming the door. However, the 31-year old Blueshirt then opened the door and cooperated fully. He was taken away to the Hollywood police station where he was charged with battery. Avery posted a bail of $20,000 and then indicated, that "it'll all work out at some point." He'll have to appear in court on September 2nd at 8 AM.

Certainly, this is discouraging news for the Ranger organization with an important season approaching. Avery's situation is being closely monitored by the NHL, including the Behavior Program he once took part in following his remarks on ex Elisha Cuthbert, who was seeing Dion Phaneuf prior to a Dallas/Calgary game. He was suspended by the league and didn't return until the Rangers brought him back after the Stars had seen enough. Ironically, Brad Richards was one of the most vocal about the incident. Now, they'll be reunited on Broadway, which bares watching.

What we do know at least is that Avery made a mistake that won't get resolved until his court date prior to training camp. He also had some unsavory remarks about cops referring to them as, "fat little pigs," before coming to his senses. There was a party at his place with loud talking and predictably loud music, which disturbed neighbors. However, nothing out of the ordinary happened.

It still wasn't a good idea even if Sean can do what he pleases away from the rink. He's entering the final year of his contract. So, the timing couldn't be worse. Avery has already apologized to owner Jim Dolan and GM Glen Sather. How will John Tortorella react? He's always been very strict on Avery, which doesn't bode well. If he's cleared, will he get a clean slate or might it impact his role? That remains to be seen. He can be a valuable player when he's agitating opponents and providing energy. In what amounts to the biggest year of his life, he's already got detention. How will he respond? The Blueshirts can't afford distractions. Especially with the big Euro-trip to start the season before heading to Western Canada due to the renovation.

There's already been plenty of sentiment on Twitter about whether Avery should be allowed to return. The last I checked, we don't know all the facts. Everything we hear is just that. Some of it could be true. I'm sure there's more stuff that we haven't heard. As a former juror on a pretty big case out here six years ago, I try to keep a clear head. Until all the evidence is in, you're presumed innocent. In this case, it looks bad for Sean. Though cooperating should help.

There are plenty of Avery haters who would like nothing better for him to get locked up with a slanted jury. Good thing that's not how the justice system works. Sometimes, I get the distinct impression that these fans act like Avery hurt them. Regardless of what kind of person he is on the ice, we don't really know him unless you cover the Grate One. I can't judge.

At the end of the day, what he does doesn't affect me. This is the same individual who spoke out in favor about gay marriage. A major breakthrough that saw other athletes also be pro on the controversial issue, which was passed by New York State. There's a lot more to the man than what we see. Maybe we should check ourselves next time.

Monday, August 8, 2011

My take on Islanders Arena

As many of you already know unless you were living on a different planet, the New York Islanders took a hit seven days ago when a majority voted against the referendum for a new Coliseum complete with a minor league ballpark and sports complex. Fifty-seven percent voted no, dealing another blow to club owner Charles Wang, who wants desperately to keep the team on Long Island.

Just from an outside perspective, it seems Nassau County doesn't care enough to keep the team. Perhaps another area of Long Island will come to the rescue. Whether that comes to fruition remains to be seen. Currently, the Islanders who are celebrating their 40th Anniversary for the upcoming 2011-12 season, have until the conclusion of '14-15 to play out the end of their lease. Afterwards, my guess is as good as yours. From now until then, that gives Mr. Wang a small window to get something done. Whether it's in Long Island or possibly Brooklyn or Queens, I am rooting for the Islanders to find a permanent home that keeps them part of our sportstown.

In a piece I did over on my other blog Hitting Back, I expressed how much the Islanders mean to our Tri-State area. The reason three hockey teams can work is because it's big enough for each to have their own fanbases. The Devils got their new palace. The Rangers are getting theirs with Madison Square Garden being renovated. The Islanders have remained in Nassau Coliseum throughout their existence. They deserve the same treatment despite Wang not exactly guaranteeing to put his own money on such a project. Something that can't be overlooked.

In my post, which took literally an arm and a leg to complete, I look at a franchise that's close to competing once again. It's the Islanders who boast more talent than either its neighbors. Do we really want to see them leave as things are about to get good? Here are the highlights from No Vote could spell doom for Islanders:

As was previously noted, the idea to push ahead a $400 million project on Nassau County without Mr. Wang coughing up anything aside from picking up the two million tab for a yes vote didn’t make much sense. Especially given the national debt crisis. For one of the heaviest taxed counties, the timing couldn’t have been worse. So perhaps it wasn’t a shock that a majority voted it down- unwilling to have more taken from their pockets for a referendum that could’ve cost as much as $800 million over a 30-year period had it passed.

The reality is 57 percent voted against the new proposal that came on the heels of Wang’s dream Lighthouse scenario which he wasted time/money on before moving forward. While he would’ve ponied up an arm and a leg had there been overwhelming support for the Lighthouse, the Islander club owner was unwilling to spend a nickel for his latest proposal. It was like he expected the public to deliver a new arena with all the trimmings because he lost over $250 million. Part of it’s the existing lease that runs out in 2015, unable to generate concession revenue- leading to higher costs and lower turnout. Combine that with a team that’s had little success since a ’93 Cinderella run and it’s easy to explain why the Islanders are in trouble.
How can Islander faithful get past last week’s defeat and try to look forward to a roster GM Garth Snow’s built? It’s impossible for anyone not to ponder the plight of the franchise. Unless Wang and Nassau County executive Ed Mangano come up with a new plan, the team is done with Nassau once the lease ends at the conclusion of 2014-15. Considering the opposition in a stubborn county, maybe it’s best for Wang to consider alternatives such as moving to Queens or even Brooklyn if Nets’ billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov changes his mind about icing a hockey team. Barclays Center will be an impossible commute unless fans are willing to make the trip on the tracks. Not exactly the easiest choice.

A new arena in Queens next to Citi Field would be a marketing dream which could provide easier driver access with public transportation also available. Would the city be willing to help build it for Wang, preserving a franchise rich in tradition? This isn’t the Yankees, Mets, Giants/Jets or Devils getting their own palaces. Even the Nets knew when it was time to get out of the disaster known as New Jersey Sports And Entertainment Authority (NJSEA). If the lockout ever ends, they’ll play out a second year in Newark and then finally reroute to Brooklyn.

The Islanders seem like an afterthought much like the four consecutive Cups they won from 1980-83, dominating hockey. Maybe it’s cause of where they play. It’s still unfair to forget the impact of the bright orange and dark navy blue, who pushed around the Great One to win one final Cup before the Oilers took the mantle away from Al Arbour, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Billy Smith, Bobby Nystrom, Butch Goring, Clark Gillies, Ken Morrow, Bob Bourne, Duane and Brent Sutter.

Those Islander teams boasted some of the greatest collection of talent to ever lace ‘em up. Imagine losing a franchise that was the gold standard three decades before the Yankees, Devils and even the Giants. The Bronx Bombers never won four straight, narrowly missing in the ’01 Fall Classic on the heels of 9/11. Out of that era, I choose the one my team lost to Arizona over ’96, ’98-00 because of what it meant to New York City and our country.

As a hockey blogger who’s followed the sport since the late 80′s, I can’t imagine life without the Islanders. They’ve always been the Rangers’ biggest rival. From all the classic series when they arrived to the old “19—40 chants,” until 1994 finally erased it forever, Long Island has always been our bitter enemy. As players from both sides have noted, the passion in the stands is what makes it so special. The energy and electricity at MSG or Nassau Coliseum are what make the games compelling. With apologies to the Devils, who have become our most universally loathed rival based on recent history, it’s the Islanders that are still No.1 in my book. When they’re good again, it’ll change instantly.

Rivalries are what make sports great theater. You have it in every sport with the latest installment of Yanks/Red Sox that concluded last night at Fenway. This upcoming season marks the 40th Anniversary for the Islanders. Forty years of hatred between two intense fan bases, whose emotions run high when the two teams take the ice. Whether it’s “Rangers Suck,” at The Coliseum or “Potvin Sucks,” at The Garden, this classic rivalry is one that MATTERS. Toss out the standings, stats or the names on the backs. It’s always been about the logo on the front. Players have changed allegiances. Each fanbase have welcomed a once hated enemy with open arms.

Chris Simon was once ours. A good Blueshirt when suddenly he became Public Enemy number one after his dangerous baseball bat swing connected with Ryan Hollweg’s neck. Thankfully, he was okay. Pat Lafontaine once donned all three New York jerseys, finishing his career on Broadway after successful stints with the Islanders and Sabres. Bryan Berard won a Calder with the Isles, eventually joining up with the Rangers. The list is endless.
The Islanders mean a lot to New York even if a select number of Blueshirt supporters can’t resist taking shots. This isn’t about having them to beat up. Or have we forgotten that the Isles are the grittier, scrappier bunch who bring a lunch pail work ethic to this rivalry? Sure. We have fatter pockets. But that’s never meant much against a classic rival.

The bottom line here is the Islanders are part of the fabric that makes hockey in the metro area special. No matter which way you root, there are always the other team's fans wherever the games are played. As our Devil blogger Hasan has echoed, Islander fans have invaded Newark. They have a strong following, which often gets overlooked due to the current poor arena situation. Not making the playoffs deters fans into staying away. Ticket and parking expenses don't help. Unfortunately, we live in tough times.

Amazingly, our run of five in six postseasons after going blank for a decade dwarfs the Isles. If Devil fans were spoiled for so long, then we actually have it a lot better than our No.1 enemy. The Rangers can always attract free agents because we have an owner who will pay top dollar. Until the Islanders get a new arena, they will continue to struggle recruiting UFA's. Say this for Garth Snow. The man tries. With a questionable future and not exactly a playoff lock yet, it's a tough sell for the Islanders. Look at the Devils since getting The Prudential Center. While they haven't been a free agent magnet, Ilya Kovalchuk re-signed last summer, surprising some. Their past success helps. Even if Hasan is not fond of Lou Lamoriello's post-lockout record, there's still a perception that you can compete for a Stanley Cup in Jersey. Until Tavares and Co. finally make the big dance, it will continue to be an uphill climb.
Hopefully, they'll get a new arena and continue to be part of our community.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Devils buy out White, who moves on to San Jose

After being waived by the Devils and then bought out once he cleared waivers yesterday afternoon, it didn't take two-time Cup winner Colin White long to land on his feet. Today Whitey signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the San Jose Sharks, and the irony is twofold. First off, Shark fans can recycle their Ian White jerseys (Colin will wear his familiar #5 in San Jose), plus now you really can call him the Great White Shark. Despite the fact he's moved on, Devil fans won't have to wait long to see Whitey again, as the Sharks make a trip into the Prudential Center on October 21. Thankfully we're not seeing him any more than that - for rumors were the Penguins were also interested in him, among other teams.

I'll be cheering him on in his return from my new seats in section 120 this year, for I've decided to move on as well. Not from the Devils of course, but from my section in 208 - which is now a thing of the past for me. After mourning not being able to have tickets there anymore, and resisting the temptation to buy season tickets I've finally decided to get back in the game, with good seats right behind the Devils' net (for the first and third periods). At $22 per game, can't really argue with the price, since it's only $7 more than my extreme corner seats have been the first four years of being a season ticket holder in everything but name at the Rock.

Guess sometimes change can be good, whether we like it at the time or not. Here's to hoping a change benefits Whitey as well.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Islander Arena Referendum Vote Today

The moment has finally arrived for Islander fans. For days, Long Islanders counted down to today's pivotal Referendum Vote for a new arena in Nassau County. New York Islanders team owner Charles Wang pitched his new proposed arena that would keep the Islanders on Long Island. After his pipedream Lighthouse project fell apart, the billionaire reconsidered with an alternative plan for Nassau County to build a $400 million complex on the same land where Nassau Coliseum is, complete with a minor league ballpark.

If a majority Vote Yes, the breakdown would be $350 million for the new arena along with $50 million for the minor league ballpark. Ideally, a yes vote preserves the Islander franchise in Nassau County. However, it's somewhat controversial due to the most heavily taxed county in America having to pony up higher tax costs so the project can be completed. This helps explain why there is plenty of opposition with elected Democrats campaigning against it, which has drawn the ire of a passionate fanbase that would be in a state of panic if it doesn't go through.

Prior to the big vote, rallies were held over the weekend in support of a new arena. The question is does the entire county of Nassau want to push Wang's arena through at the risk of higher taxes, which would come directly out of their wallets. Perhaps that's why it's expected to be close. At last check, a vote of No was ahead according to early polls. At the beginning of the day, light participation seemed to favor the Islanders. However, nothing is etched in stone. Even when it comes to a once proud franchise that won four straight Stanley Cups that's provided Long Islanders with an outlet, you just can't predict what will happen.

The final tally should occur tonight. If it's passed, Islander fans have nothing to worry about. However, in the doomsday scenario, it's hard to say whether a no vote spells the end. As Wang's repeatedly said to anyone who will listen, including a rare public appearance in studio with WFAN's Mike Francesa, he'd have to explore 'other options.' The existing Nassau Coliseum lease expires in 2015. One of the worst leases in sports that prevented the club from taking in any income off concessions- leading to higher ticket and parking costs. Along with a team that hasn't won a playoff round since a Canadian team last won Lord Stanley ('93 Canadiens), this likely explains why the turnout hasn't been good. Not surprisingly, it cost Wang millions.

Understandably so, he's right about Islander fans needing a new state of the art facility. The one avenue that might get lost in the shuffle is that Wang was willing to pony up significant costs if his Lighthouse dream had been approved. He spent a ton on marketing a wonderful concept that was unrealistic in today's economy. Now, the once part-time owner who took over full ownership in 2004 after buying out former partner Sanjay Kumar, wants Nassau County to deliver him a new arena without anything coming out of his pocket. Does that sound fair? As much as I have supported the latest proposal with even the Rangers and Devils encouraging Long Island to vote yes, I can't totally agree with Wang getting an arena that eventually could run as much as $800 million over 30 years. It almost reminds of the Brooklyn Dodgers with Walter O'Malley daring Robert Moses not to lend support to a new stadium in Brooklyn. The rest is ancient history. Hopefully, Long Island won't suffer a similar cruel fate if today's referendum gets voted down.

There are alternatives like possibly relocating to Brooklyn ironically enough where the Nets will move next year. Aside from basketball, the complex will also include ice surface for making, which would allow hockey to be played at Barclays Center. While it's still far fetched, at least the Islanders could be saved if Wang decides to sell to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. Another slim possibility would be to move the franchise to Queens where the Mets play at the beautiful Citi Field. However, given The Wilpons financial woes due to Bernie Madoff, that seems like a pipe dream.

As a rival fan who's always enjoyed Rangers/Islanders, I can only hope no matter what transpires, the Isles stay put in Long Island. It's where they belong. Relocation would be terrible for the metro area, who have always supported three teams. It's what separates New York/New Jersey from other places. Having the Devils, Islanders and Rangers close together has been a blessing for hockey. I can't bare the thought of losing a franchise rich in tradition with loyal fans, who deserve better. Here's one vote for common sense.

Devils continue to shift things around, put White and Hunter on waivers

With a second buyout period available to the Devils starting today, few thought anything earth-shattering would happen, especially with the Devils a little under the salary cap with a full roster. Maybe it was somewhat expected that new acquisition Trent Hunter would be bought out, although disappointing that now we have to deal with a dead cap hit for four years at 666,667 per season and comical that we essentially traded Brian Rolston for cap space only. There was some speculation that Bryce Salvador, with one year left on his deal would be bought out but since he's still on LTIR it wasn't a possibility.

However, the decision to waive two-time Cup winning defenseman Colin White came out of left field, as did the revelation that GM Lou Lamoriello has been trying to trade Whitey since the end of the season. There were no takers that White would waive his NTC for. In announcing his intention to buy out both White and Hunter if neither were claimed on waivers, Lou cited 'budgetary' concerns and the current depth of young players on defense and right wing. While I do agree we have a ton of young defensemen just about ready for the NHL, the fact is that if we don't have a miracle return from Bryce Salvador or some other move before October, our fourth-most experienced defenseman going into next season is the immortal Mark Fraser. Yeech.

Of course, the budgetary admission does worry me, although it can be a fairly loose term - either referring to the team's budget in terms of actual money spent, or the salary cap itself. Cap-wise we were approximately $3 million under the salary cap including Salvador and $5.5 million without him (replacing a minimum-salaried player with Salvador's $3 million equaling a net difference of $2.5) before these buyouts. Assuming neither player gets claimed on waivers, the buyouts will give us an additional $3.3 million in cap space with a full roster. In terms of real money, it saves ownership just over $2 million of the approximately $7 million combined owed to Hunter, who was signed for two years and White - who was on the last year of his deal.

Still, after calming down about this a little I have to admit that it's unlikely that a couple million dollars here and there would really make that big a difference so perhaps it wasn't the overriding factor, it's not like we're booting $50 million off the payroll like the Mets, although the initial signs haven't been good - from Parise not getting a long-term deal, to Rolston and White being given away and being stuck with a cap hit for four years because we wouldn't stick Hunter in the minors. Although White was still one of the team's best defensemen, maybe the Rolston and White moves really were a belated attempt to change the culture of a locker room that went through coaches like Kleenex.

Even if he was declining as a player and whether or not there were locker room issues, it's sad Whitey's Devil career has to end like this. He's been a part of the Devils organization since he was 17, and he's 33 now so do the math, that's sixteen years. As Lou himself put it, White was a 'true Devil'. He played ten seasons with New Jersey, playing a physical, gritty style at the start of his career that got him compared to one-time teammate Ken Danyeko. Two years after the lockout ended though, he suffered a career-threatening eye injury in camp but managed to return after only missing the first twenty games of the 2007-08 season. Physically, he wasn't the same player but compensated with smarts and was frequently matched up against the other team's best players. Even this past season, he was one of the few Devils who pulled their weight in the first half and helped a young defense mature in the second half.

As far as what comes next, I give up. I have no earthly idea anymore, since we've been sending mixed signals all offseason. Are we rebuilding or going for it? Are we saving money or reallocating it? I didn't see this one will be interesting to see if we actually use the cap space we're clearing or not, or whether we clear even more salary? I'm kind of nervous to find out the answer.

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