Tuesday, April 3, 2012
New York Islanders act as if Pat LaFontaine never existed
Before every home game this season, the New York Islanders have commemorated their 40th anniversary in the National Hockey League by dimming the house lights and queuing up a nostalgic video.
For five minutes, the Nassau Coliseum scoreboard comes to life. It flickers through a montage of clips, set to stirring orchestral music, that recall the one thing this struggling franchise still has in abundance: a rich history of great moments made possible by great hockey players.
But anyone remotely familiar with the team's history will ask the same question after watching this video: What happened to one of the most famous Islanders of all, Pat LaFontaine?
LaFontaine, arguably the Islanders' best and most popular player in the late 1980s and early 1990s, remains one of their most significant figures. Yet the video is one of several instances when the Islanders seem intent to pretend he doesn't exist—they've left him out of their Hall of Fame and once neglected to mention his presence at a charity bike ride. It's one of the rare instances in sports history where a professional team has taken pains to whitewash a player from its history.
The fracture seems to stem from LaFontaine's 40-day tenure as an unpaid senior adviser to team owner Charles Wang and his resignation from that post on July 18, 2006. That resignation came just hours after Wang had fired general manager Neil Smith and replaced him with the team's backup goaltender, Garth Snow. Wang had hired Smith and LaFontaine on the same day, and LaFontaine said in a recent interview that he disagreed with Wang's decision to fire Smith after less than six weeks.
The ill will stems from LaFontaine's tenure as an unpaid adviser to owner Charles Wang.
LaFontaine elected to step down after failing to persuade Wang to reconsider, he said—not necessarily out of loyalty to Smith, but out of concern for the franchise's direction. "I believe you treat people fairly," he said, "and stand up for what you believe in."