New York Islanders: The Value of the Other Home Ice

The New York Islanders have a new, world class, practice facility.  Everybody seems to think that’s important.

The New York Islanders open grown up camp this week. The juniors, the rookies, and the PTOs will slide to one side and allow the NHL veterans to begin readying for the season as a team.

Every team goes through this ritual each fall. But not every team is experiencing camp a brand new home, and the Islanders are the only team in the NHL to be doing so at a state of the art complex, for the first time in team history.

If you’re a fan of Rocky movies, you might romanticize the notion that grittier training sessions and spartan facilities harden a man for battle. You might say “Ice is ice. Who cares about how comfortable the locker room bench is where you lace ’em up?”  There’s an answer. Every NHL veteran cares.

Maybe not the Islanders rookies. They haven’t been spoiled yet by NHL living conditions and frankly, they’re too worried about making the team than material conditions.

What Players Want

When you offer Andrew Ladd a seven-year contract that will likely span the rest of his career, you want to have pride in the facility that he will skate in a thousand times.

Do the math – he will skate there more than one thousand times. How’s that for perspective?

Surroundings really do matter. And Iceworks was a crap hole. Cantiague might have been worse. The locker rooms smelled like a locker room. And though that sounds counter-intuitive, trust me. NHL players do not want their work environment to smell like a High School player’s equipment bag.

They want some room to spread out.

The want a separate rink for non-contact players.

They want a well-stocked work out facility.

They want a video room that makes them feel they are treated like professionals who are the best in the world at what they do. They want a centrally located practice rink that can accommodate fans when appropriate, and shield them from the public when it isn’t.

What They Don’t Want

You know what they don’t want?

They don’t want to fight with public sessions for ice time. They don’t want a converted industrial warehouse that gets rattled when an LIRR train barrels by every 12 minutes.

They don’t want to park in the marshy weeds next to the rink because there is no paved parking lot.

These are the real, not imagined, circumstances Islander players have had to traverse over the past years. I promise you that Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, and Anze Kopitar didn’t win cups over the past few years practicing in substandard rinks like Cantiague Park or Ice Works in Syosset. Who would commit to experiencing THAT, a thousand times over?

The Effects of Upgrades

Will it make the players either happier, or better? In a vacuum, sure. Of course, it will. But only as one of a hundred necessary steps to being a winning team.

Will it bring free agents to the New york Islanders? Not by itself. Nobody says, “I want to play for a losing team, for less money, so I can have a nice practice rink.”   Literally, nobody. But what I believe many high-end free agents do consider is, How does this franchise treat

Literally, nobody. But what I believe many high-end free agents do consider is, “How does this franchise treat its players?”

And when you have one day to show them around at the end of June, the sales pitch can contain the up and coming young squad, the good life you build on the North Shore, and the rink where they will spend more than a thousand days during the course of the seven-year contract Garth is offering.

Northwell isn’t a panacea for all that has ailed the Islanders franchise. They seem to be working on that from so many angles.  Good for the current ownership and management team. And while the sirens and harpies send their shrill barbs about the real or imagined arena issues, this rink can stand as a symbol of the new way this franchise is promising to do business.  That works for me.

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