Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How Does This Work?

There aren't enough blogs about the New York Islanders.

OK.  Not true.  Maybe there's just not enough blogs about the New York Islanders written by a lifelong fan who is trying to come to grips with actually having real expectations and optimism for the future of the franchise.

Islander fans are an odd breed.  This isn't surprising to most hockey fans simply because one can't be a fan of a perennially bad team and not have a few screws loose.  It's the age-old question of, "Why would you subject yourself to this every year?"  We never truly have an answer for that.  But whatever the reply is, it usually includes something about loyalty sprinkled with nostalgia.

It's been a little while since my older brother and I woke up my parents celebrating David Volek's OT goal in 1993 ("You will have no dynasty, Mario!").  Before that it was talking about the Easter Epic surrounded by dyed eggs and piles of food at my grandmother's house with a dozen family members.  Cheering for the Islanders was fun, exciting and good for pumping up your own private self esteem.

After that 1993 team bowed out to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Montreal Canadiens, the Isles returned to the playoffs the next season (barely) and had to face the New York Rangers in the first round.  I then watched my favorite team get crushed (goals scored in the 4-game series: 22-3) by their biggest rivals (who went on to end a long and well-chanted-at championship drought).  It seemed to be the worst it could possibly get.  Then the next 20 years happened and well...

There was Kirk Muller and the Gang Of Four.  Mike Milbury and John Spano.  Fisherman jerseys and asbestos.  Neil Smith and making the backup goalie the GM.  Bad signings and worse trades.  It was Dante's Inferno wrapped in Groundhog Day.

So why am I still here?  Watching this team every game?


I mean, it's not that life-sustaining, culture-shifting type of hope that wins Oscars when someone makes a movie about it.  It's simply the hope that the team will make me cheer again.  Because I like cheering for something that I've invested years of time into.  Something that is responsible for happy memories with friends and family.  Sports are grounded in hope and Islanders fans have lived on it - sometimes only on it - for the better part of two decades.

However, the ruse is that us Islanders fans have become accustomed to just hanging on to hope while waiting around for the inevitable disappointment.  Does it count as hope if the person feels that failure is always the result?  Probably not.  I've limited the scope of my optimism to the short term.

"Maybe they can do well these next few games."

"Maybe they'll find a way to win this one game."

"Maybe this power play will score."

Hope for one week or one game does not really equate to being hopeful for the team because I expected that in the end, they'll be among the also-rans.  Granted, this team has provided a few bright spots along the way.  They made the playoffs each year from 2002-2004 and again in 2007.  The 2001-02 team was my only real "They have a chance" feeling over the last 20 years.  I wasn't sure what to do with myself then and I find myself on the precipice of that feeling again.

Only this time, it's compounded by the feeling that this team could be good for a while.

And I have no idea how to handle any of this.

There's a few reasons why I've started this blog.  I like stories.  I'm capable of writing a complete sentence (sometimes).  I feel like the common fan's voice has become uncommon.  There's many more people like me out there than fans like those on the Internet.  However, the flashpoint was this past weekend's trades.  I walked around and couldn't shake the feeling that, "This is one of those days that people look back on in a few years and say, 'That was the day they finally stopped rebuilding and started contending'."  Good sports teams always have that day.  It's part of the blueprint.  Honestly, it should've happened last offseason, but for unknown (but heavily speculated) reasons it didn't.  Then the hope that grew out of their first playoff appearance in 7 seasons quickly faded back into discouragement.

Are Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy the next coming of Morrow and Potvin?  Well, no.  They aren't even top-pair level defenseman.  They are very good NHL blueliners but, more importantly, they've filled in the gaps.  I don't mean the tactical gaps or the gaps in talent.  I mean those gaps in hope that fans of bad teams always have floating in the back of their heads.  Gaps that are always there, albeit small, at the start of each season.  Gaps that seem to only grow and never shrink.  And now they're completely gone.

And I have no idea how to handle any of this.


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