The state of the Islanders raises a question: when does an NHL team become irrelevant?

 

I’m not picking on the New York Islanders here, not in the least. I think that they’re young still, and need a bit of polishing, but they have some outstanding players on that team. Are they the Eastern Conference’s next version of the Blues? Probably not, but their rebuild seems to be plodding along fairly all-right. After all, it takes a hell of a lot of effort to undo the damage that a certain GM turned talking head did. Patience’ll eventually be rewarded.

The New York Post’s Larry Brooks would disagree with me on this one. In his article from this weekend, he just comes right out and says it in the title: “Islanders no longer matter.” Well, ow. That’s not the kind of thing that you want to read written about your favorite hockey team, especially when it’s one of the rare times that the Isles have made it into the New York press. To be fair, the other teams in the area have a little more glamor (except for maybe the Mets) and some more “notable” players, but the Islanders have people to pay attention to as well. The trick is that the cycle of being bad to mediocre on ice needs to be broken for guys like John Tavares to be a bit more big named and for the newspapers to pay attention to the team again.

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What causes irrelevance? Who looks at the NHL’s list of 30 teams and chooses those that aren’t worth the press’ time? Is it based on record? Market? Roster? Proximity to flashier teams? Obviously it’s not history, because if you want that, the Islanders and their four consecutive Stanley Cups are chock full of history. But in this day and age, with people’s attention spans being what they are, history doesn’t matter. Instant press and instant information has led to a “what have you done for me lately” mentality, and unfortunately the Isles haven’t done too much.

They’re not the only team that some might claim to be “irrelevant.” The Phoenix Coyotes could be based on the perceived shortfalls of their location — ditto with the Florida Panthers. They’re doing stuff, but thanks to their markets and what their markets’ press believe is important, it’s not getting out there in the news — it’s irrelevant. The Chicago Blackhawks under Bill Wirtz looked like they were headed in the direction of the Islanders — franchise with history but the sad-sackiness of the team’d sapped all of their fanbase’s (and press’) enthusiasm.

There’s a lesson to be learned from the Blackhawks. They weren’t irrelevant forever. Intelligent ownership and a smart front office turned the team around, got attendance numbers up, and made them the talk of Chicago sports (sure, it helps that the other three teams are average). Go back in time seven or so years to 2003-2004, the season before the lock-out. The Islanders were in the 8th place spot in the Eastern Conference with 91 points. Where were the Blackhawks? Second to dead last in the entire league with a paltry 59 points (and tied with the Washington Capitals). Last place? The Pittsburgh Penguins with 58. To put this in perspective, there’s a chance that the Columbus Blue Jackets can finish with as many points this season as the Hawks and Penguins did in that year. Were they irrelevant? Are they still?

Irrelevant is in the eye of the beholder. If you look at the past and plan for the future, teams like the Isles aren’t irrelevant. If you look at the now, which is where we live, they are. Today’s “the now” is tomorrow’s past. There’s no reason why, in six years or so, Brooks couldn’t be writing this article about the “once mighty New York Rangers.” Don’t get too insulted by what people say, Islanders fans. It’s all temporary.

About Laura Astorian

Laura Astorian is the head editor for the SB Nation blog St. Louis Game Time and has been a Blues fan from childhood. She promises that any anti-Blackhawks bias will be left at the door. Maybe.

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