The Islanders said they needed a hoist, but a boost would be more like it, the kind you get from signing your best players and finding a goaltender who doesn't have a sunburn on the back of his neck from the goal light. Citing an unsafe scoreboard hoist and other purported structural inadequacies at the Nassau Coliseum, new owners Howard Milstein and Steven Gluckstern tried to get out of their lease, which by the way runs through 2015 and offers them no share of concession and parking revenues. But the courts, backed by engineers who said the arena is sound, told Milstein and Gluckstern to stay put. One county executive called the owners "pigs at the trough."
The Islanders are no longer homeless, but if they don't sign restricted free-agent right wing Zigmund Palffy, they, and their season, may be pointless. Palffy scored 45 goals last year, including a league-high 17 on the power play, but take away Robert Reichel's 25 goals, and nobody who spent a full season on Long Island last year scored more than 14. Backliners Kenny Jonsson, 26, and Bryan Berard, 21, lead what could be, in three or four years, the league's best defense corps. The promising mix includes 1997 All-Star Scott Lachance; Eric Brewer, the fifth pick in the '97 draft; and the NHL's biggest player ever, 6'9", 240-pound Zdeno Chara.
The No. 1 goaltending spot falls to Tommy Salo, better known for catching punches (for example, the highlight-worthy whuppin' by the Rangers' Dan Cloutier last season) than pucks. Salo is a tourniquet until 19-year-old phenom Roberto Luongo is ready. Last month New York held its first Tri-Isle-a-thon. Luongo, who can't swim, did O.K. in the bobsledding and bowling events, but he toppled into the lake during the canoe race, and two players and two trainers had to save the man who is supposed to keep the Islanders from sinking.
"I believe in this team's future with every ounce of my soul," says coach and general manager Mike Milbury. Unfortunately, the roof will cave in on his season one way or another.