When Charles Wang removed Mike Milbury from his post as General Manager of the New York Islanders mid-season, fans of the team finally felt vindicated for their long standing advocacy of such a move. Indeed, the “Mike Must Go” chants had careened off the walls and rafters of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum for many years, and considering some of “Mad Mike’s” moves over his ten plus years as head of the club, they were probably well deserved.
After all, it was Milbury who grew impatient and allowed future all stars Brian McCabe, Todd Bertuzzi, Olli Jokinen, Roberto Luongo, Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara among others to escape his shipwreck of an organization without receiving much in return. But more than five months after Milbury “stepped down” to become the head of Wang’s sports properties, essentially earning a promotion for more than a decade of personnel gaffes and playoff disappointments, Wang has still failed to find a replacement.
By taking so long to make a determination, Wang has lost out on solid candidates such as Dean Lombardi, who was named the Los Angeles Kings GM, and has hurt the already questionable credibility of a franchise coming off its worst campaign in four years. A roster which features the highest paid and perhaps greatest underachiever in the league, Alexei Yashin, a depleted defensive corps and a lack of gritty players will need to be drastically reconstructed in order to make the Islanders a contender in a new NHL that rewards speed, hustle, and out working one’s opponents.
Recent reports suggest that Wang is waiting to talk to the current Eastern Conference champion and former Islanders’ head Coach Peter Laviolette about a dual role with the club, or perhaps even reinstating Milbury in his old and all too familiar role. However the likelihood of the Hurricanes not locking up Laviolette after the club’s great playoff run are very slim, and the fan outcry of a return to the Milbury era would be so deafening in its dissent that even the oft clueless Wang would have to take notice.
The Islanders need to make a statement to their fans and the rest of the league that they should be taken seriously. The best way they can do this is to hire former Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager and hockey hall of famer Craig Patrick as their General Manager. Newsday’s Alan Hahn has reported that Patrick would be interested in the Islanders job, and the team could surely benefit from the name recognition and savvy of the two time Stanley Cup champion Patrick.
Certainly Patrick’s less than ceremonious departure from Pittsburgh is a concern, but after nearly 17 years as the GM of the Penguins a change of scenery is best for Patrick. He can move into a role that doesn’t feature the impediments of dealing with a very limited payroll and the constant concern over the possible selling or moving of the franchise like he did in Pittsburgh for much of the past decade.
By hiring Patrick the Islanders would be making a statement that they, as an organization, are making a serious commitment to competence starting at the top of their hierarchy. Furthermore Patrick would be able to redeem his somewhat tarnished legacy after some recent dismal seasons in Pittsburgh, which had more to do with the organization’s lack of ownership stability than his personnel decisions.
As the Stanley Cup finals are in full gear and the amateur draft is on the horizon, Wang must act now and make his decision. Bring in Islanders legend Bryan Trottier to serve as executive director of player development was a savvy move both for public relations and hockey decision making, but its time to find out who his boss will be. At this point, many Islander fans would probably settle for anyone but “Mike.”