9:30 pm – Updated in the Comments area with some comments of my own about your responses…CB
The LIRR was on time, getting me to Madison Square Garden before Islanders players and coaches were required for pre-game media availability. As these usually ho-hum sessions go, this one during a strike-shortened season on April 4, 1995 would be different.
The Islanders had just acquired Kirk Muller and Mathieu Schneider from Montreal in a controversial deal for Pierre Turgeon and Vladimir Malakhov. Muller, the former Habs captain imported to be the next great leader of the franchise, would in hours make his Islanders debut – against the Rangers at MSG, no less.
I made my way through the Garden’s nooks and arrived in the visiting team hallway. From more than ten yards away, I could tell something was not right. My Islanders colleague in PR, a dear friend, was not a great actress. The look on her face told me trauma was ahead.
“He’s not coming,” she said.
“What do you mean – like, his flight is late? That sucks, but he’ll make the next game.”
“No, Chris,” she said through clenched teeth, hoping the guys from the Post wouldn’t see the stress. “Kirk Muller is not coming. He isn’t sure he wants to join the Islanders. Ever.”
The rest is history, real bad history.
I re-live this painful moment for Islanders fans as a public service announcement. At some point in the Islanders’ plan to build from within, they will find it necessary to add a major piece or two along the way. When they do, they should think twice about trading for Canadian royalty.
Notice I wrote Canadian, not Canadien. This isn’t just about Kirk Muller. It’s also about Trevor Linden. And it’s also about Ryan Smyth.
Our friendly Northern neighbors are not to blame just because they genuflect before Doug Gilmour like he was…well, Bryan Trottier. Hockey, as you may know, is sort of popular there. With that sometimes comes a lowered bar on the Jordan and Tiger notion of a true superstar. In New York we do that with Derek Jeter baseball players a lot.
Kirk Muller did not spend an honest moment as an Islander from the day he was acquired until the day he was gone, but he did honestly believe he had a higher calling and it was not to be a leader on the New York Islanders. For perspective, we’re not talking about Messier here. At the time Muller was about a half-a-point a game player and, at best, a second-line center for the Canadiens.
Trevor Linden is a tough one because he remains one of my favorite people, but something was lost in his game, in his will, during the time between his last game as a Canuck and his first game as an Islander. His daily beat-downs from his Vancouver coach Mike Keenan had something to do with that, but Trevor never was able to rise above it.
Smyth’s precious few days as an Islander were mostly exceptional. He gave everything he had and played well. Ryan said the right things but never made phony promises.
He is a very good leader who maxes his abilities, including a slapshot that clocks in around 52 mph. But would he have been worth more than 6 million a year for six years to the Islanders? Ryan’s family decision to sign in Colorado was a blessing for all concerned.
Michael Peca’s Islanders career may be under-appreciated. Another one of those Canadian legends, he openly embraced his trade to Long Island from Buffalo (where he was a holdout) and captained the Islanders’ revival. He seemed determined to solve problems, not add to them.
Peca was one of those Captain Canada types, but he never acted like royalty. In contrast, Captain Kirk thought he was King Kirk and the magic was only there for Linden when he was in Vancouver. I believe Ryan Smyth would have learned to love Long Island, but the hectic stretch run of the NHL schedule gave him little time. Months later he had the first opportunity of his career to sign with any team he wanted.
The key with future acquisitions like these is the Islanders must find players who will embrace being part of the solution. (Somewhat on and off topic: Mike Komisarek of West Islip, Long Island, New York…yes, by all means, over-pay, over-pay, over-pay. He’s not going to win a Norris and I don’t really give a crap whether his style fits the system. The Islanders need him).
The Islanders should learn from their experiences with Muller, Linden and Smyth, who, by the way, have one Stanley Cup ring between them and – despite cult-like support from certain media pals – are unlikely to make it to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
This is one of many reasons why I support the Islanders’ commitment to rebuild (as for their ability to execute the plan, we shall see in about two years). If you develop home-grown players, the logo, the team and the community will come to mean something to them, no matter where they are from. Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey (who love the area), the stud they take next June…give them the chance to feel like they are part of something, to feel like Islanders.
However, when the team eventually goes in search of that veteran star to take the program up a notch, I have a suggestion.
Don’t be limited to buying American, but do your homework on those kings of Canada.