Reign of error

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Long Islanders awoke yesterday morning to clear blue skies.

The drizzling rain and clouds from the day before were gone and a new dawn commenced with splendrous sunrise.

Long-suffering New York Islanders fans surely appreciated the symbolism.

A black cloud finally lifted above the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, when 10-year general manager Mike Milbury announced he will step aside once a successor is found.

Islanders fans weren't surprised head coach Steve Stirling was also handed his walking papers but they were caught off guard by Milbury's decision to hand the GM duties to someone else.

"Thank God," fan Tim Brace said before last night's game against the Calgary Flames.

"Everybody else was the problem but it was him. He was the problem. We have too much talent elsewhere. I'm tired of watching guys be stars on other teams."

Jeremy Indenbaum points to Islanders captain Alexei Yashin's $7.6 million salary to illustrate Milbury's failings as a GM.

"It doesn't help your best player, the second-highest paid player in the league, is the laziest on the team," Indenbaum said.

Milbury's reign of error has been the cause for plenty of guffaws around the league yet he's heading for greener pastures. He will oversee the Islanders, their minor-league affiliate and the Arena Football League Dragons.

No wonder he landed on his feet.

As a person, there aren't many more engaging than Milbury. His quick wit is the stuff of legend.

While butting heads with agent Paul Kraus over a new deal for Ziggy Palffy, Milbury told the media: "It's too bad (Kraus) lives in the city. He's depriving some small village of a pretty good idiot."

But his long list of failed trades reminds Islanders fans what could have been.

Players dealt away by Mad Mike would comprise a perennial Stanley Cup contender.

Imagine an Islanders team with Roberto Luongo in goal, Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara, Bryan McCabe and Eric Brewer on defence, and Jason Spezza, Olli Jokinen, Todd Bertuzzi, Mike Peca and Raffi Torres among the forwards.

You could add Dany Heatley to that mix, too. Milbury had the first overall pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft at the Saddledome but, instead of selecting the Calgary product, he picked another young goalie, American Rick DiPietro, which necessitated a deal shipping Luongo out of Long Island.

His deals made headlines.

But they rarely made sense.

That's why the Islanders have made the post-season only three times since Milbury took over as GM in December 1995.

That's why today's Islanders are a squad built around the underachieving Yashin, whose bloated, long-term contract will keep the new GM handcuffed for years.

"There's a good part of the population that's been ... looking forward to this," Milbury said yesterday.

For once, he's right.

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NOV. 17, 1996

MILBURY TRADED: D Darius Kasparaitis, C Andreas Johansson to Pgh

MILBURY GOT BACK: C Bryan Smolinski

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MARCH 20, 1999

MILBURY TRADED: G Tommy Salo to Edm


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JAN. 23, 1996

MILBURY TRADED: C Kirk Muller to Tor;

MILBURY GOT BACK: D Wade Redden D Bryan Berard, C Martin Straka

MILBURY TRADED: G Damian Rhodes to Ott


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JUNE 20,1999

MILBURY TRADED: RW Ziggy Palffy, C Bryan Smolinski, G Marceland fourth-round draft pick to LA

MILBURY GOT BACK: C Olli Jokinen, LW Josh Green, Cousineau D Mathieu Biron, No. 8 overall pick (Taylor Pyatt)

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FEB. 6, 1998

MILBURY TRADED: RW Todd Bertuzzi, D Bryan McCabe and third-round draft pick to Vcr


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JUNE 24, 2000

MILBURY TRADED: G Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen to Fla

MILBURY GOT BACK: C Oleg Kvasha, RW Mark Parrish first-overall pick, used to draft G Rick DiPietro. Passed on Dany Heatley and Marian Gaborik.

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JUNE 23, 2001

MILBURY TRADED: D Zdeno Chara, RW Bill Muckalt, and No. 2 overall pick (C Jason Spezza) to Ott