Guest Post — Can The Brooklyn Move Bring Back Lost Fans?

The following is a guest post from Peter Flynn written exclusively for Point Blank on the Islanders’ move to Brooklyn. He has previously written on this blog about NHL suspension policy.

“It’s morning again in America,” declared an ad campaign to re-elect Ronald Reagan in 1984. With Islander Country stuck in perpetual twilight for the past decade, does the deal to move the team to Brooklyn move the clock forward a few hours towards a new dawn? It sure couldn’t make things worse.

When I was 14, my father took me to my first Islanders game. Depending on your definition of “watched,” I had been watching Islanders games since the team won their first Stanley Cup in 1980. True, I was less than a year old, but I was present in the same room as the television, so I’m going to count it. Being a fan from such an early age made last year’s decision to give up on the team I had loved since a child all the more difficult. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

On that night in 1993, I saw the Islanders beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. This was, as every Islander fan knows, a foreshadowing of David Volek’s miracle one-timer from the right circle in the quarterfinals. While beating the defending champions was a great feeling, the best part of the night came after the game. My father brought us over by the  player entrance, and I got to meet many of my favorite players and get their autographs.

While it was surreal to meet so many players I had only seen on television, I really only wanted to meet one: Darius Kasparaitis. I was apparently not the only member of the Darius fan club, judging by the mob of fans who surrounded him when he exited the arena. I shouted his name and somehow scored one of only two autographs he gave that night. I was hooked. I was an Islander fan for life. Or so I thought.

Over the years I went to many more games. I was there when Al Arbour got a chance to coach one last game, thanks to Ted Nolan. I was there when John Tavares scored his first goal as an Islander. I paid a bartender $100 in Valdez, Alaska, so I could watch the playoff series with Toronto on their big screen TV over the objections of the other sailors and bar patrons. Thanks to other Islanders fans, Howie Rose even mentioned my name during a game, when he thanked fans in the military watching overseas.

I defended the team on message boards, mailing lists, and in person. I was accused of “drinking the Kool-aid” when I insisted that the next batch of glory days were just over the horizon. Looking back, those people ridiculing me were probably right. But that’s what fans do. We try to find the silver lining in the approaching storm cloud instead of running for cover. And I did it for two decades.

One day last summer I simply couldn’t do it anymore. I was tired of hoping for next year. I went back and looked at decision after decision, and I came to the conclusion that the team would never win with Charles Wang as owner. On what other team would Rick DiPietro still be contending for a job every year? What other team would replace one of the best color commentators in the business for seemingly no reason?

In regards to these arguments and numerous others, the meat has been picked off the bones, and I have no interest in polishing a carcass, so I’ll simply say that I couldn’t believe any longer in a future that seemed to slip further away each year. I was tired of being Charlie Brown and believing that this year Lucy wouldn’t lift the football. I came to the conclusion that the Islanders would never be a professionally run organization with Charles Wang as owner.

My veins must still have orange and blue residue because today I had the same feeling I did when I heard that Mike Milbury would no longer be bringing Oleg Kvashas to Long Island. The same feeling I had when I heard that real NHL free agents like Mike Comrie and Bill Guerin were signing on Long Island, not people we had to try to get excited about.

“No Mike, Joe SAKIC, not Joe Sacco!”

So while I haven’t followed the team over the last year, part of me is hoping that I can find a reason to come back. One day, Lucy will grow up and leave the ball on the ground. One day, the oasis in the desert will be real, and not just an asbestos-fueled mirage. Will the move to Brooklyn bring me back?

By itself, no.

Part of me wishes I had a different answer. But my reason for leaving was never the arena. It was the other decisions that I felt were not the sign of a professional organization. A change in that area is going to take more than a modern arena. I don’t expect perfection, but management decisions that don’t require doublethink to defend would be a nice start. If Wang proves that he can get out of the way and allow people with hockey knowledge to make hockey decisions, I would come back. If he sells the team to someone who would do likewise, I would definitely come back.

So is this morning again in Islander Country? I don’t know, but I think I might hear the faint sound of robins and see a few rays of sunlight starting to creep over the horizon.

(Ed. note — corrected Mike Peca reference to Mike Comrie)