In 2015-16, the New York Islanders won a playoff series for the first time since the epochal spring of 1993.
And the feeling which permeated the team throughout the summer was?
“It was more than a piss off than anything,” Travis Hamonic said.
“You watch those other series,” Hamonic said, “and you feel like you should be there competing.”
Yes, the Islanders first season in Barclays Center saw them eliminate Florida in six games before falling to Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division Final. That was followed by an off-season in which Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin replaced Charles Wang as majority owners of the team. Ledecky and Malkin have publicly vowed their vision for the franchise is to win a Stanley Cup, and general manager Garth Snow, who has been praised for stockpiling the organization’s prospect pool, went into free agency to add Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera and P.A. Parenteau.
Hamonic believes the quality of the team and the quality of life on Long Island has transformed the Islanders into a destination franchise for NHLers. That includes the team’s new training facility in Eisenhower Park, Northwell Health Ice Center.
“We have guys,” Hamonic said. “Maybe teams in the past, they stay in the (Uniondale) Marriott, see the big parking lot (between the hotel and the Nassau Coliseum) and that’s all they see. You’re from the area. Long Island is beautiful. It’s an unbelievable place to play, so I think when people get a chance to experience what we experience every day as players, it’s a hell of a place to live.
“I don’t know statistically but it has to be one of the top places in the league, as far as living for players and families. That’s kind of a common theme when (new) guys come to the team. They (say) ‘Holy (bleep), this is impressive. What we have as an organization to to work with as far as living and I think that’s a huge factor. Word of mouth moves around the league. It’s a small league, everyone knows each other and those things travel. It’s nice to see our organization get rewarded with those things.”
Certainly, the atmosphere around the Islanders is significantly different than it had been earlier in the decade. Still, there is a narrative—both founded and unfounded—that surrounds the team.
Firstly, despite having the fourth highest payroll in the NHL according to industry website GeneralFanager.com, the Islanders were criticized for not doing more to retain Kyle Okposo, Matt Martin and Frans Nielsen. On breakup day, after the Islanders were eliminated by Tampa Bay, Okposo said he “knew pretty early there weren’t going to be any (contract) talks so I did my best not to think about it,” according to Newsday. He ended up signing a seven year, $42 million unrestricted free agent contract with the Buffalo Sabres on July 1.
Martin, whose physical play made him a fan favorite, signed a four year, $10 million deal with the Leafs, while Nielsen agreed to a six year, $31.5 million contract with the Detroit Red Wings. Those pacts, like Okposo’s, were announced on July 1.
While the losses of Okposo, Martin and Nielsen were significant, more troubling may be rumors regarding the franchise’s long term home. During the off-season there was speculation that the team was interested in building a facility in either Willets Points, Queens—next to Citi Field, home of Major League Baseball’s New York Mets—or on the grounds of Belmont Park race track. It was subsequently revealed that both the Islanders and Barclays Center have opt-out clauses in the contract between the team and the arena, which Wang had said was “iron clad” when the two sides announced the agreement in 2012.