So I was taking a trip down memory lane and checking out the Islanders old websites when I found this interview between Mike Milbury and Stan Fischler from sometime in August of 2000. Wow, just wow is all I can say about this piece. My comments will be in italics after Milbury’s responses.
Mike Milbury with Stan Fischler, August 1
What do you feel best about, looking back on the developments of the summer?
Going to the draft with a gameplan and then having the pieces fall into place for us to pull it off. You know, we knew there was an urgency we hadn’t seen before to get it done and to get it done quickly. And we needed to take some fairly bold steps and we were working on this for three weeks prior to the draft. It was when the lottery hit for us that we just continued to probe certain things and once we got to Calgary everything came to fruition. We go to camp now for the first time since I’ve been here with a legitimate playoff aspiration and it is great. It was exhilarating, it was fun and I can’t wait to get started at training camp. It’s really going to be a fun September.
I will never understand how anyone in their right mind could believe that the 2000-2001 Islanders could be a legitimate playoff team in any way shape or form. The team finished with only 21 wins, fourth worst in franchise history and third worst if you don’t count the strike shortened year. They also finished with the third worst point total in franchise history, only better then the expansion year and the strike shortened year. Five players finished with -20 or worse, while 12 players finished with double digit negative +/-.
How important is making the playoffs this season to the franchise?
It’s the goal every year, but realistically we were never serious contenders. We just didn’t have the depth. We didn’t have the experience. We didn’t have the wherewithal to pay players that were veteran-type guys that could help us achieve a playoff spot, but that’s changed. We’ve added substantially to our payroll. We’ve added to our depth chart on the ice. We come to camp with three or four lines that are all proven NHL players and now we hope to see it all gel and it’s still a young group. With the exception of John Vanbiesbrouck, none of the people we acquired were anything but young players.
Reading this with 20/20 hindsight is amazing. You would think by now with the failures of both the Linden trade and the Potvin trade that Milbury would have learned to stop overrating veteran players. Instead he pretty much blames the youth of the Islanders for missing the playoffs all those years. It’s amazing that just about every player he traded went on to have a solid career, and most people suspect had he actually kept the team together the Islanders could have been something of a contender in the early 2000s.
How important is it to have a marquee player? Vanbiesbrouck is your only one.
I wouldn’t stop with John. John has just been around a longer time, so people recognize the name. I fully expect that Rick DiPietro will be a household name around here for years to come. I think that Tim Connolly and Brad Isbister and perhaps Taylor Pyatt and Raffi Torres will be household names. We have a couple of other guys that are in the mix like Bill Muckalt and Oleg Kvasha, who we want to see prove themselves, and dare we forget to mention Mariusz Czerkawski, who scored 35 goals last year. But right now we don’t need a marquee guy, we need to win. We need this group to gel in September and come together under Butch Goring and come out of the gate where we have a relatively good early season schedule to prove to people that we can be a playoff team.
Well DiPietro is a household name, but not in a good way (for now). Tim Conolly, Taylor Pyatt, Raffi Torres, Bill Muckalt were all traded by Milbury within a year of this statement. Saying Oleg Kvasha to an Islanders fan will give them douche chills. Czerkawski was traded two years later for Aaron Asham because the Islanders needed toughness. I’ve always said that Milbury thought for some strange reason that this team could be a playoff team, and I finally have proof for all those doubters.
Between now and the beginning of the season is it likely you’ll make a significant trade?
It’s in the unlikely category, but I’m always looking to upgrade our position. I’d like to get a little more speed; we’d like to get a little more scoring if we can. I think we’ve added significantly to our defense with Hamrlik and Haller without taking anything away from our defense. The trick is to make sure these guys show up signed and in time for training camp.
Well he did only make a handful of trades that year, including one of his better pickups in Jason Blake.
What does your crystal ball tell you about Rick DiPietro?
It tells me that he’s as mature and his attitude is as good as any young player that I’ve seen and if anyone can do it this year at such an early age it could probably be him. However, we have no urgency. We signed John Vanbiesbrouck and we expect him to want ice time to play, to probably be the number one goaltender. He’s a tremendous insurance policy for us and we trust that he’ll be a member. But the camp will tell the story. We go into camp just looking for the answers to questions, but we don’t have to speculate anymore, we don’t have to worry about our goaltending position. It’d still solid with Vanbiesbrouck, it’s still backed up well by Wade Flaherty. If DiPietro enters the equation, he’ll prove it to us at training camp.
Would you consider it a failure if you have to send DiPietro down to the minors?
This year? Not at all. We don’t need to force him into a position that he has got to carry the ball here. I think that’s a good, safe position to be in, but sooner or later this kid is going to be the guy that we go to and his performance, beginning in September, will be the barometer by which we judge when is the right time.
Oh Milbury, Milbury, Milbury. You waited until the end of Janurary, when the team was all of 13-29-5-2 to throw DiPietro to the wolves. You signed the 18 year old to a contract, and after 20 horrible horrible games you send him to the IHL Chicago Wolves, where he continues to struggle that season. There’s a lot you did wrong in the whole DP history, but rushing an 18 year old goalie to the NHL who obviously wasn’t ready was probably one of the cardinal sins. Especially when you consider you had placed every chip you had on DiPietro’s success.
How difficult was the Spano fiasco for you as an executive?
There were clearly days where I wouldn’t have been upset if someone had said, “We’re relieving you of your duties.” It was foolish at times. It was not really a great place to be in, to work. But that’s changed and I’m glad that my staff and I have an opportunity to prove that we know what we’re doing, that we’ve established a good direction.
I came here knowing that it wasn’t going to be easy. But I had no idea how screwed up it was going to become. We’ve gotten through the dark days. Last year, when we started the season, we just wanted to provide hope for the franchise and we did that. The team played hard and Butch did a great job and the staff did a great job of getting the kind of players that could compete under difficult circumstances. Now we’ve added to that mix, we can see that our goals are attainable, and I’m pumped. I’m pumped.
Once the draft was over, there was really almost a calming sense. We could look at the board and say there are things that we might want to do, but we don’t have the gun to our head to go out and hire, really, American League and International League players to play in the NHL just because the salaries were right. We made hard choices and spent some serious money and now, it’s really going to be a great September and I think a good season.
Oh John Spano, I don’t care if you were a criminal or a conman. If you had fired Milbury during your brief stint as “Owner” you would be a hero on Long Island for the rest of your life. It even appears that Milbury came close to quitting himself, which would have been just as fine for any of us Isles fans.
How do you think the Islanders matchup against the Rangers?
The Rangers recycle. Mostly they get veteran established players. They’ve done it again this year and their payroll is still fully double what ours will be. You know they have some young talent. I don’t know what direction Slats wants to go in. He’s certainly going to have to infuse some youthful talent into his lineup, but you know they do things different, in a different fashion than almost anybody in the business.
We’ll never really seek to model ourselves after them, except our goal will be the same. It’ll be to win. And we don’t think you need to do it in their particular way. I think it’s great that Slats is in New York. I think a New York team should be competitive and strong and I think he’ll make it that, but we’re not using them as a role model.
If anybody was a role model, it might be the team that’s a little bit further south in New Jersey. Lou has done a remarkable job of accumulating and really gelling talent over the years, so that’s the kind of product, that’s the kind of tradition and type of team that we want. We want to bring it together and we think we can.
The Irony, it hurts oh God does it hurt. For those who can’t remember, this was a Mike Milbury who within the year traded for Yashin and Peca. In the process he gave up just about all the youth (and a second overall pick) on the team. Milbury probably deserves a spot in the Ottawa Ring Of Honor for sending them Chara and Spezza for Yashin. Even Sather hasn’t made trades that bad with the Rangers. It’s funny how Milbury is even countering himself, earlier in the interview he complained that he didn’t have enough Vets to get to the playoffs before this year.
What did you think of Glen Sather criticizing your goaltending segacity at the draft?
Sagacity? Very good, Stan. My response to that was that it’s none of his damn business. I like Slats, he’s a smart hockey guy. But I don’t know what he’s going to do, though. He’s hired about 65 people to do what he’s supposed to be doing. I’m trying to figure out what he’s getting paid for.
But he’s going to bring his experience and his energy to that team, and they’ll be a much better team for Slats and his new coaching staff. They should make the playoffs. I mean, I count the Rangers, Toronto, Philly, and the Devils as four sure-fire playoff spots that are locked up. Slats can fire a dart. I think he was saddened because he wasn’t in the limelight for the day and the Islanders stole his thunder so soon after he ascended to the throne. But he’ll have his day eventually, I’m sure.
I want to rip more hair out of my head reading this. Milbury, you were in the limelight for the day because you not only pulled off one of the craziest trades of all time (Olli Jokinen and Roberto Luongo for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha) but then you probably made one of the all time worst first overalls in league history. That’s not how you want to get the limelight. But it never did bother you why you were in the limelight, like the time you beat a fan with his own shoe.
Matt Schneider wants to come back to New York. Why don’t you go after him?
My focus has really been to get Roman Hamrlik signed and Kenny Jonsson signed and we have Zdeno Chara out there, too. I like Mathieu. He’s a good soldier who works hard. I don’t know what his demands are because we haven’t talked to him at all. The first thing I’d like to do is see if I could get everybody in order. However it turns out, I wish Mathieu well because he was a real good guy for us.
I heard these rumors all the time that Schneider wanted to return to Long Island and that he really loved it there. I never understood what the issue was that Milbury would never bring him back. I mean he only named three defenseman (including one that would be traded in the next year) so it’s not like the Islanders Defense was overflowing with players better then Schneider. I guess in some time and place Gary Galley and Kevin Haller were head and shoulders better then him.
How is the interplay between you and Charles Wang?
I’ve only really sat down to talk about business with him on one occasion, and that was just last week. With he and Sanjay Kumar, what you see is what you get. He likes to have a good laugh. He’s very bright. He claims to have no working knowledge of the business and he’s going to trust it to [others to run the business]. But he’s a nice guy, a nice guy who plans to lose a lot of money over the next couple of years to get things right in the interest of bringing Long Island a winning team.
And it’s great. I think it’s nice to have guys with the wherewithal, but he’s nobody’s fool. He doesn’t want to throw it against the wall and just lose money hand over fist. We talked about players and where we should be and which people are in positions of leverage and which aren’t. [These are things] he knows a lot more about than I’ll ever know — in terms of negotiating to make big deals. So far I’ve seen nothing but a consistency to these guys that really gives me a lot of hope.
Well if there’s one thing Wang was good at for the last decade it was losing money. Some of it is his own fault for giving Mike Milbury of all people an open wallet. It’s also interesting that Mike notes negotiating big deals, as Wang lost a lot of money buying out Yashin’s contract.
How should Islander fans look at the potential for a new arena?
There’s no way that this situation can change inside of three to five years. They don’t have the political end of it tied up and they don’t have the financial end tied up. It’s going to take them some time, but I believe them when I hear them say that we’ll have a new building. Now is not the right time to be pushing. We’ll make changes like a new locker room, which is presently being done. Eventually we’ll find ourselves in a new Coliseum and I’m looking forward and hoping that I’ll be here to see it open.
The More things Change, the more they stay the same!
How can we make hockey better?
The four-on-four overtime was a good start. That was so good. It was so much fun for everyone and I don’t think we’ll ever see that go away. I think all of us have seen scoring go down dramatically over the last few years. Anything that can be advanced that will speed up the game and open up the game is something I would be open to.
Ironic for a defenseman who was known to clutch and grab and take cheap shots himself back in the day.
Give me some ideas?
One of the things we’ve talked about, briefly anyway, is actually having a larger goal. The goalies are bigger, their equipment is massive. We’ve tried to button down on what types of equipment they wear. But why not add whatever numbers of inches in terms of height and in terms of width and add a little bit more scoring to the game? Although we’re not soccer with 2-1 scores all the time, we’ve drifted down. The whole object of the game is to score more than your opponent and when you have to wait for 35 minutes to see a goal or two, it takes some of the shine off the product.
They continue to regulate down the size of the goalie pads, as starting this season (2010) there are new rules on goalie pads based on proportion.
Helmets detract from the personal appeal of the game. How can we make players more appealing?
I think the league is doing every thing they can, with shows like “Cool Shots” and getting interviews that you get when players come off the ice and getting them to take their head gear off. And with more advanced technology and new types of television that’s going to help out. We’ve got to keep pushing it because we want players to be easily identifiable. With a 30 team league now it’s becoming more and more difficult to sell players around the league. Selling your own players is an important component in doing justice to your fans and to your players.
I never remember even hearing about Cool Shots back in the day. When I was younger I would watch ESPN all the time and this didn’t ring a bell at all. It ran from 97 to 04 on ESPN, and if your curious I added a link to a video from it.
What’s your feeling about the toughness of the game?
Well, you know, the Stanley Cup final, that was a hard-nosed Cup final. It was, I think, a tribute to the sport and the way it should be played. Over the course of the season you’re going to have some games that, well human nature dictates that guys will fall off. But I believe that we have a group of players on our team and generally speaking throughout the league, that are still committed and willing to sacrifice their bodies to block a shot, to make a hit, to make the right play, to score a goal and take punishment doing it.
Our athletes have changed less than any other professional athlete. I think that’s a good thing. It’s amazing that these guys that are millionaires are still willing to block a shot and break a leg doing it if it means a win.
The collective bargaining agreement will end in 2004. Is a lockout inevitable?
That’s not for me to say, Stan. I do know that from just doing my own business here, that we’ve added a ton of money this year and the expectation that each player brings to the negotiation table now is so much higher and so much wackier than I’d ever thought it would be. We have money here, but nobody, not Charles and Sanjay, not Ted Leonsis, they don’t want to come in here and just keep throwing millions of dollar. It just doesn’t make sense. I find there’s a lack of realism among the players. They expect it too much and too soon, and part of my job is to hold that line and to educate them as to why I’m holding the line and what they can expect.
I guess part of “Hold that Line” means mocking your best players ever when a team is awful. I mean how dare Ziggy Palffy, Tommy Salo and Kenny Jonsson want fair contracts when they are the only players carrying the team. For that matter, how often did a rookie actually make it to the point that Milbury was negotiating a new contract with them? Unless he’s complaining about stuff like Mike Rupp and JP Dumont never signing entry level deals, but it so rarely happens (prospects not signing ELCs) that it would prove to be a GM and not a player issue.
I want every player in our lineup to be in camp, but I’m not going to do that at the risk of forfeiting a position of leverage that we might have and we only have it once maybe in a player’s career. If he’s a high-level draft pick, he gets the cap and he gets a big bonus. After the entry level, he’s got no arbitration rights, and really nowhere to go past the 10% qualifying offer. After that, he can go to arbitration or eventually become a free agent and the leverage all belongs to the player.
And is it any surprise that Milbury had so much trouble signing anyone when all he wants to do is give people their 10% qualifying offer. Believe it or not Mike, some players are actually worth giving a raise to beyond that 10%. You should have learned that long before you had 4 years on the job. It should have been evident when almost every RFA the Islanders had was a problem and a half to re-sign.
There’s only that one little area of a player’s career where the leverage switches to the club and when we have that leverage, we’ll use it. In other cases, we’ll make the hard decision on how valuable this player is. But I know Charles Wang — nobody wrote him a check for millions of dollars. He went out and earned it. And I’m going to consider that I have to hold his money like it were my own money and be reasonable. In the past we haven’t been, and were far too much the other way. But now that we have some resources, I want to keep them so that when we need a player to make the playoffs at the trading deadline, I want to be able to say we did our work on these players in negotiation. We held the line where one could, and because we did we still have the resources to add an important veteran at the deadline.
Oh Cruel Irony. This paragraph is funnier in hindsight then anything I can truthfully write.
t like the outlook if the trend continues, but I think the managers have begun to exercise whatever rights they do have under the CBA and hopefully that will send a message to the union. As you know, I was a big union guy. I’m all for players getting their due. They are the game. They are the product that we all feed off of, but what I really hope happens is that we get rid of this nasty attitude that the Association has toward the people that provide the players with a living. I mean, I’m so tired of fighting and quarrelling over every little thing that we don’t really need to fight over. It’s just nasty and it’s mean-spirited on the part of the union. I’m tired of it.
Sometimes people are such hypocrites. He’s a big union guy, but obviously not anymore since he’s not a player.
I’d like to see my players. I enjoy being around the players. I enjoy being with them and I don’t want it to be viewed as “Uh-oh, here comes the manager. Everybody run for cover.” And it’s that way and that’s not the purpose of the union. They seem to be all about not just getting every last nickel, but providing some sort of nasty platform to call all of us in management and ownership evil people. It can’t be that way. The average salary is about a $1.4 million now. Nobody’s really getting screwed anymore. Hopefully, common sense and courtesy will prevail.
Because Milbury had loads of Common Sense and Courtesy.
What did you think of the Rangers bringing back Mark Messier?
I don’t really care about the Rangers. C’mon, get away from me, Stan. I don’t really care about the Rangers anymore. He’s a great leader. He’s coming back to resume his position as captain of the Rangers. He’s had an illustrious career, and I can’t say anything bad about him. I’m sure he’ll clean up that locker room. We’ll see how long he can sustain productivity. I’m sure that’s a judgment that Glen is able to make. He knows him far better than I do. And I wish them all well, except against us.
Would you like to see more divisional play?
I think we need it. We need it because as much as I’ve been a proponent of wanting to have interconference play so you could see the Selannes and Kariyas of the world at least once, with 30 teams, it’s impossible. I think there may be a need to look at divisional play being a much bigger part of the package for identity sake. And to build a rivalry with other divisional teams like Philly and the Devils and the Rangers. That’s what the fans want to see more of and what they deserve.
I don’t get this, it’s obvious the fans want to see every team in the league. Why shouldn’t fans get to see Selanne and Kariya just because it’s an easier schedule to make? I’ve always been one for playing every team in the league twice (one home and one away) and then the rest of the schedule is in conference or in division games. Six games always seems like a lot of in division games to me.
I want you to take one forward, one defenseman and one goaltender in the league and tell me which player excites you the most and why.
There’s nobody in the league at any position that’s more entertaining than Jaromir Jagr. The package that he brings and the creativity that he brings is, well you know…everybody in the league would love to have this guy. He’s a horse of a player and a dynamic player. He clearly loves to play and he’s got to be my favorite of maybe anybody.
In terms of the goaltender, there are some great ones in the game. I guess I always look at Martin Brodeur, who’s got not only the ability but the attitude that you want your goaltender to have. He looks like he’s competitive, but he’s never pressured. He went through a rough patch in the playoffs and all of a sudden it’s, “Oh my goodness, there’s gonna be a problem here.” But that resolved itself in a hurry. Give credit to his coaching staff and whomever else may have had a hand in it. But Brodeur was something special when it was necessary.
And I’ll stick with the Devils theme on the next one. I mean if you’re looking for flash, you don’t get it from this guy. But what you get from Scott Stevens is blood and guts. What Stevens did through the playoffs — and what that team did — was show a remarkable consistency of effort. There was a will to win and Stevens, for a guy that didn’t put up a lot of points, he was the guy that was clearly the leader. His hit on Lindros, which put an exclamation point beside it, just marks him as a guy that along with Ray Bourque have got to be the examples for not only defenseman but for every player in the league. Bourque and Stevens have set a standard of workmanlike approach to their profession that today is really unmatched.
It’s amusing that he praises Jagr so much, but was always so harsh with someone who was considered Jagr-esque in Palffy. I’m sure if Milbury had Jagr on the Islanders he would have found a way to mess it up.
I look at you and I can’t believe that after all that’s happened, you’re not gray. Why are you not gray?
Actually, it’s starting to come in, but I got a haircut a couple days ago. They’re starting to peek out a little, but it’s not too much. It’s not from clean-living, I can tell you that.
Well you’d have to be drunk or high to make some of the decisions you made over the years, so I never would have claimed you were clean living.
And that’s all from this trip back in the time machine.
PS: I lied, I found this article which was too funny not to share