Brooklyn Boro

Isles still hoping for Coliseum return

Could use former home on interim basis until Belmont arena is complete

January 10, 2018 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Team captain John Tavares and the rest of the New York Islanders may get another chance to play at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum before they move into their new arena adjacent to the Belmont Race. AP photo by Kathy Willens
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The New York Islanders could be skating out of Brooklyn as early as the end of the 2018-19 season, and heading back to their original home at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum for a couple of years.

If, of course, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman deems the since-renovated facility “viable” to host at least a portion of the Islanders’ 41 home games per season.

The Downtown-based franchise, which moved into the Barclays Center in 2015 with what was then referred to as an “iron-clad, 25-year lease agreement,” is currently waiting for its new arena in Elmont, N.Y., to be built.

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The finalization of that construction project, which got the green light from Empire State Development last month but has yet to put a shovel in the ground, will likely take several years, leaving the Isles to play out the next two to three seasons here in Brooklyn.

However, Isles co-owner Jon Ledecky, Bettman and Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment CEO Brett Yormark took a tour of the newly renovated Coliseum, now known as NYCB Live, on Tuesday, hoping that the commissioner could be steered into reconsidering his original stance that the arena was “not a viable option” to host NHL games.

During a radio interview on WFAN Wednesday morning, Ledecky reiterated that the Isles would certainly play their home games here in Brooklyn for the remainder of this season and next.

But after that, the franchise would like nothing better than to re-establish its Long Island roots on the same ice where it captured four Stanley Cups during the 1980s before moving into its state-of-the-art digs adjacent to the legendary Belmont Race Track.

“The Coliseum fits into the mosaic of hearing our fans and listening to our fans,” Ledecky said.

“I think the fact is, we have the best fans in the NHL,” he added. “They want to tailgate before the games. Scott Malkin and I are owners of the team, we have a community trust, therefore the shareholders of that community trust are the fans.”

The Isles have been drawing a league-worst 12,041 fans per game for their 21 home dates at Barclays thus far this season.

The Coliseum could host just under 14,000 fans for hockey as currently constructed, but the building’s bathroom facilities, locker rooms and lack of suites certainly leave something to be desired.

“We have to have our budget approved by the NHL.” Ledecky said, noting that the Isles might have trouble remaining viable financially in a salary-cap system without further improvements to the Coliseum.

The Isles can opt out of their original lease agreement with Barclays at the end of this season, and are likely to renegotiate a temporary deal to remain in the facility until the Belmont arena is open for business.

But Barclays Center and Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who also owns NYCB Live, would almost certainly prefer a one-year pact following the opt out as the Isles haven’t exactly been helping the Downtown facility’s bottom line since moving in.

As per terms of the original lease, Barclays is locked into paying the Isles $50 million-plus per season regardless of the team’s actual profit margin.

That deal has been costing Prokhorov.

The Russian billionaire would much prefer to use the currently occupied NHL dates to schedule more concerts, boxing cards and other entertainment events on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

So this will be an amicable split between the two parties following the 2018-19 campaign, but only when, or if, Bettman finds the Coliseum a “viable” venue for NHL games.

“We are currently awaiting a response from the Islanders to our proposal to bring NHL games back home to the Coliseum on an interim basis,” Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment said in a statement last month.

“We understand the required approvals from all parties involved to make that happen, and are prepared to facilitate any necessary enhancements.”

There is a possibility that the Isles will continue to call Brooklyn their home before the eventual move to Belmont, but they could also play some of their home dates at the Coliseum, freeing up Barclays to host other events during the NHL schedule.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appeal to Bettman to bring the Isles back to Uniondale during last month’s press conference to announce the winning of the Belmont bid apparently did not fall on deaf ears.

NHL is now at least considering the Coliseum as a temporary, if not full-time, option for the Isles following the end of the 2018-19 season.

“[NHL’s] initial position was we will have no NHL games played at Nassau Coliseum,” Ledecky said. “The NHL has since changed its position.”

Isles Have Another: Ledecky also spoke briefly about the pending status of superstar center John Tavares, the team captain who will likely command between $80-$100 million in free agency this coming summer. “We love John Tavares,” Ledecky said. “We want John Tavares to remain an Islander for life. We want him to lift our fifth Stanley Cup trophy over his head.” … The Isles, who are in the middle of their bye week, will return to the ice Saturday night at Madison Square Garden for a key showdown against the arch rival New York Rangers. The Isles are just one point behind the Blueshirts for one of the two Eastern Conference wild-card spots.


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