Earlier today, Zach - who made his triumphant return earlier today - sent me a text informing me that the Islanders turned 38 years old today. He also suggested that perhaps they're going through a mid-life crisis right now and that may explain why they're getting younger. While I'm sure their motives for their youth movement are simply to create the best team possible, as evidenced by the Blackhawks, Capitals and Penguins in recent years, Zach has a pretty good point.
You probably know some people who peaked a little too early in life. You know the kind of person I'm talking about - the prom king, the high school quarterback, the head cheerleader. They had the world at their fingertips in their early years, but now they ring up groceries or drive UPS trucks. If you were to meet one of these people now for the first time, you'd be cordial, but you'd be underwhelmed, maybe even a bit condescending. After all, you don't end up like that without screwing up somewhere.
The New York Islanders fit this mold. Many younger fans can never recall a time when the club was even competitive, let alone dominant. Hockey fans in New York are either born into rooting for the Islanders, or they grow up pitying the Islanders. And yeah, you could say the Islanders have been going through a mid-life crisis for some time. For a very long time, you had the constant parading of former greats - the virtual equivalent of a 30-year-old gas attendant wearing his high school football jersey to work. "Hey, remember what I used to be?" Sadly, we don't.
Today, the Islanders are firmly entrenched in a battle against Father Time. They're the balding guy who purchases a Mustang and buys a vanity license plate in order to feel and look young. They're the mom who wears the same clothes as her teenage daughter. Looking back at what once was, struggling to find modern-day relevancy. You could make the argument that reverting to the classic blue uniforms is the same type of thing - reinventing the team didn't work, so let's simply stick with what once worked.
Thirty-eight years is a long time. Too young to be classic and historic, too old to be new and cutting-edge. What's the answer - the RIGHT answer? Reconcile the past with the present. Create a new image in the same vein as the old one, but updated to meet modern times. Reach out to the loyalists for support, but make new fans at the same time.
That's what the Islanders are doing. And they're doing a great job.
You have to admit that it's not easy to do what the Islanders are trying to do. Like many of us, they've gotten stale and need to recharge, to recreate the Islanders image. You see it in publications all over North America. Nobody expects anything out of the Islanders in 2010-11, and why should they? The Islanders were bottom-five in points and attendance last year. Two of their three best players are out for the foreseeable future. Plus, the team is always fighting the perception of being a joke. But widespread organizational change takes time, and this is no different.
What will become of this Islanders team? Will they emulate the example of the Blackhawks and Penguins, rebuilding through the draft and eventually becoming champions? Or will they be more like the Edmonton Oilers, who have been rebuilding for the past twenty years? It's tough to say. But you get the impression that the Islanders have identified their issues and are trying to address them, just like the mid-life crisis crowd or anyone else stuck in a rut. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to simply survive, to just ride it out and hope for the best. We can't say if the Islanders will be a playoff team this year, but at least they're trying to get better the right way. And that's a hell of a lot better than clinging to the glory days or, worse, shipping the team off to Hamilton or Kansas City.