Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Chicken or the Egg

The age old question -- "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Contemplation of this mysterious riddle can often leave one craving McNuggets or an Egg McMuffin.

The morass that is the Islander organization is faced (and has been faced for a long time now) with a dilemma of similar proportions. Which comes first: improving the franchise, or improving attendance & the facilities? Last night, when the Isles faced off against Tampa, they had a paid crowd of just slightly over 8,000 (and there was less than that actually IN the arena). That is the smallest attendance in more than 5 years and is an alarming sign of things to come. How can the Isles expect to: (1) get support for a new arena if they draw less than half the capacity of the current one; (2) collect the revenue necessary to pay free agents & salaries of skilled players if they are selling so few tickets; and (3) attract skilled players if they continue to lose money, play in a bad building, and play in front of pathetic crowds?

All of these problems are woven together and there is no easy solution. Many media "experts" say the problem is ownership - that Wang is too involved. Others say its the inexperience of Snow as GM. Others say the franchise is snake-bitten with bad luck and the development of the Lighthouse project is the key to solving the other problems.

Well, Wang looked like the golden boy after Picketts and Spano and was hailed as a savior when he first bought the franchise. Does he meddle or have too much input. I think that's hard to say for sure and if it was my millions (many millions) at stake I would probably meddle a little too. Initially he injected lots of money into the franchise (Yashin deal, among others) and he quickly learned that there are no quick fixes. I think perhaps Wang needs to remember way back when he first bought the team and he confessed to his lack of knowledge about the sport and he should consider taking a step back & hiring a true hockey professional to run the team. Maybe he should devote 100% of his energies to the Lighthouse project or a smaller scale redevelopment of the Coliseum property. What is the priority here - a new arena for the Isles, or a mammoth real estate project? If he really cares about the team first, then put the team first and not the personal gains to be made from a larger scale site redevelopment. You ask players to put team first -- Wang should do the same.

As for Garth's inexperience. Everyone said he did a good job getting Ryan Smyth. That the Streit deal was a steal. He robbed the Ducks in the Wisniewski trade. He "found" Matt Moulson and may have done the same with Parenteau & Schremp. I think he's done a pretty good job in light of the budget restraints, management interference, and his limited experience. Of course not everything he's done has been great (i.e, DP's lifetime contract, Fedotenko, & the signings of some other free agents that didn't pan out). I like Garth and I think he's smart and has done a decent job. That said, I wonder what this team would look like had a real experienced hockey guy (a/k/a Neil Smith) stayed longer than 30 days. Maybe the Isles need to re-think the front office personal and get some more experience. Right now they have Garth and his new inexperienced "advisor" Scott Gordon and a rookie coach in Capuano. They need someone with experience, a solid track record, and a successful resume to run the team.

As for ticket sales & the dump they play in. The Isles have been very creative & flexible with their ticket plans & pricing. Granted, their initial decision to walk away from the sweet deal they offered season ticket holders the last 4 seasons (free parking, 25% discount, extras, and no-interest payments over 16 months) was tough for most season ticket holders to take - particularly in this economy. I know - I had season tickets the last 3 years & I did not renew this season for all of the reasons mentioned above.

The main problem is -- the product is still not very good. Its a catch-22. But rehabilitating the franchise starts at the top. I think bigger changes need to occur. Replacing Gordon (who had no prior experience) with someone else with no experience makes little sense.

Maybe I should join the front office - I do have a law degree & management experience after-all. The first thing I'd do -- is hire someone like Neil Smith to make the hockey decisions. In the meantime, this Shakespearean tragedy will continue to play itself out in front of our eyes.

Well... at least maybe we can hope for a high draft pick.

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