On the afternoon the New York Islanders announced the signing of restricted free-agent Travis Green - a former Spokane Chief - to a one-year, $1.1 million contract, the big news was dwarfed by even bigger news: Absentee owner John O. Pickett agreed to sell his interest in the team to 32-year-old Dallas businessman John Spano.
The Islanders learned the team had been sold - pending the approval of the NHL Board of Governors on Dec. 12-13 - when they arrived Thursday for practice at Nassau Coliseum. They finished their season-opening road trip 0-1-2, losing leads within the final minutes in ties at San Jose and Ottawa.
“I know that this is out there,” Islanders coach and general manager Mike Milbury said. “There’s no way I can impact it. I can only just do my job and let the chips fall. … If somebody comes in here and spends untold millions to buy the club, he’ll do whatever he wants - and, I’ll take my marching orders from him.”
Several veterans saw the sale as a positive sign for the moribund Islanders, who won the Stanley Cup four times between 1980-83 but have missed the playoffs five times in the past eight seasons.
Two players, Derek King and Mick Vukota, another former Chief, said they never met Pickett, though they received annual Christmas cards. King has been with the Islanders since 1986-87, Vukota since 1987-88. Spano said he is committed to keeping the Islanders on Long Island.
“Maybe this guy from Texas buying it, maybe that is going to give a little for money for (Milbury) to work with,” King said. “It’s about time somebody steps in - and, one guy will own the team now - and it won’t be every time you read the paper that the team’s thinking about moving.
“The man is young, I understand. Fresh blood. It’s a youth movement here. Young players, young owner. I think it’s great for the community.”
Coincidence or not, on the day it was announced Spano was buying the club the Islanders re-signed the 25-year-old Green, who had 25 goals and 45 assists last season. Despite the signing, Milbury said he might pursue a player with “goal-scoring touch. Someone to put it in.”
“Now, the fans, the community, can go at ease now,” King said. “Now, the team’s staying. Let’s get on with rebuilding the Islanders.”<