September 14, 2006
Former Isles worried about team
By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
Bill Torrey received the telephone call in Florida the other day, his grandson on the other end of the line.
"Grandpa," his grandson said, "What's going on?"
The kid wasn't making a social call. The kid from Long Island was asking about the New York Islanders.
"I worry about this franchise," said Torrey, the championship general manager. "When you put 20-plus years into something and you want it to keep going, you don't want to make matters worse by talking about it (publicly).
"I worry about our legacy. What will people think of (the Islanders)? I think we're a little bit forgotten with all that's gone on.
"It's not a pleasant time for me. I have four sons in Long Island, I have grandchildren playing hockey in Long Island.
"I'm not going to lie to you, it's tough."
It isn't just grandchildren calling Bill Torrey and asking questions these days. He talked to Al Arbour, the Hall of Fame coach. Jiggs McDonald, the broadcaster, called. So did Eddie Westfall, an original Islander.
"We're all worried, we're all concerned," Torrey said.
Nobody wants to be associated with a sporting laughingstock. Nobody wants their team to be either punching bag or punchline.
Mike Bossy played 10 seasons for only one team.
"There are 16 players who were together for four Stanley Cup seasons," Bossy said yesterday on the phone. "Can you imagine that? That can never be taken from us. We'll have that forever."
Once upon a time, this was the model franchise, the ultimate team. They had Torrey the general manager and Arbour the coach. They had Billy Smith in goal, Denis Potvin on defence, Bossy and Bryan Trottier to score. They had Butch Goring and Bob Nystrom and Clark Gillies and Brent Sutter and Bob Bourne and Ken Morrow to play roles. They had everything.
"When Mr. Torrey and Mr. Arbour left, that was the last straw," said Sutter, now a coach and owner himself in the Western Hockey League. "A lot of things have changed in 15 years: Management, ownership, a whole lot of turmoil. There's questions about it all the time. A lot of us just raise our eyebrows about everything."
Never mind that the Islanders traded away an all-star team of Bryan McCabe, Todd Bertuzzi, Roberto Luongo, Olli Jokinen, Jason Spezza and Zdeno Chara. Never mind that Neil Smith lasted 40 days as general manager and was replaced by a backup goalie. Now a goaltender who has yet to establish himself has been signed for $67 million US and the next 15 years.
When asked if he's embarrassed to be called an Islander, Bossy, for one, says no.
"Yes, I care about the Islanders, I care about their image," he said. "But why would I distance myself from them? Because they're doing things differently? That doesn't bother me.
"There are organizations which have been around a lot longer which haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1967. Are they following the norm? Has it made them successful? If 25 years from now, the Islanders haven't won a Cup, then let's make a judgment. But you can't make that judgment now."
Bossy has met Islanders owner Charles Wang and respects his passion and his intellect.
"When Charles let Neil Smith go, I understood his motives," Bossy said. "I see that more at age 50 and in business than I ever did before. Does it make for an easy situation for others to understand? Absolutely not. I read the headlines today. Yeah, it bothers me to see what's being said about the team; it's still my team. But Charles owns the team.
"You can look at a lot of contracts and find them strange, as ridiculous as 15 years seems to be. Look at Ryan Kesler. He scored 10 goals and got offered $1.9 million. Isn't that strange? How ridiculous does the contract Jose Theodore signed in Montreal seem now? You can go through the league and find all kinds of them."
For the record, the longest contract Torrey signed in his years running the Islanders was a seven-year arrangement with Bossy.
"He didn't play the final year," Torrey said. "His back deteriorated. He couldn't go on. We paid him for the year. He deserved every penny."
Tom Fitzgerald played only two seasons for the Maple Leafs but left an indelible impression. Without scoring many goals, or making memorable plays, he was an important player on an important team. Tuesday, after 1,097 NHL games for seven different teams, he announced his retirement. Those who played with him will miss him most.
The Maple Leafs should ignore Dave Keon's annual blather and honour his No. 14 with or without him. This isn't, after all, about the bitter Keon. It's about Leafs fans. It's about memories. It's about history. Keon is the most complete player this franchise has known. The number deserves a place in the rafters. Not for him, but for his fans.
Brent Sutter played for two NHL teams. First with the Islanders. Later with the Chicago Blackhawks. He has great memories from both stops. Now, the Islanders are in disarrray. The Blackhawks are only slightly more organized. "When I think back, those were great places to play," Sutter said. "No matter what they've become."