Brooklyn Boro

Islanders have one skate out the door in Brooklyn

Expected to play up to a dozen games at Nassau Coliseum beginning in 2018-19

January 25, 2018 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Islanders filled the Coliseum to the rafters during a September preseason game in Uniondale, N.Y. They might be doing so on a semi-regular basis beginning next season if they can work out a new lease agreement with the Barclays Centers by the end of the month. AP Photo by Kathy Willens
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Their new arena in Elmont, N.Y., won’t be ready until at least 2021, leaving the Brooklyn-based New York Islanders to find a place to call home between now and then.

According to several published reports, the NHL franchise will have a pair of options.

Newsday reported earlier this week that the Islanders, Barclays Center and NHL are nearing a deal that would allow the team to play up to 12 of its regular-season games at the renovated Nassau Coliseum beginning next season.

The Isles could wind up hosting up to 20 games a year in their former long-time Uniondale, N.Y., arena from the 2019-20 campaign until the state-of-the-art facility adjacent to the legendary Belmont Park is complete.

All this is contingent on the Isles opting out of their Barclays Center lease by the end of this month and coming to a new, short-term agreement with Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who has been losing money on the original pact since the franchise moved here to begin the 2015-16 season.

So, while the Isles readied for their Thursday night game against the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, the team’s owners, Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, were likely busy figuring out a workable schedule with the league and Prokhorov, who has been paying out upwards of $50 million a year to the franchise without seeing a sizeable return.

The Islanders own the worst home attendance mark in the league this season, averaging 12,059 fans through their first 23 contests at Barclays.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, himself a Long Island native, had previously shot down any chance of the Isles returning to the building they sentimentally refer to as “The Old Barn.”

But his stance has apparently softened since the announcement last month that the Isles won the bid to build their new structure at Belmont, along with some urging at the press conference from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Ledecky intimated on a local sports radio program earlier this month that he had toured the coliseum, also owned by Prokhorov, with NHL officials and that the 13,000-plus seat arena could, in fact, be a feasible temporary home.

“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.”

And those fans have been clamoring for the team to return to Long Island, as evidenced by the raucous sellout crowd that showed up to watch the Isles beat the Flyers during a preseason contest at the coliseum, now known as NYCB Live, in September.

“It had the atmosphere like most Saturday home games when we were here and pretty close to what we had in the playoffs,” Isles team captain John Tavares said after scoring two goals, including the overtime game-winner, in a 3-2 preseason triumph over Philadelphia that night.

New York averaged 15,334 fans per game during the final season at the coliseum, and those numbers have dipped precipitously during their first three full campaigns here in Brooklyn, dropping from 13,636 in the inaugural season to their current seat in the NHL attendance basement.

Players have complained about poor ice conditions, fans have been vocal about obstructed-view seating and the franchise has failed to build on the success of its initial foray into Brooklyn, when the Isles won their first playoff series since 1993 before bowing out to Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The team still practices on Long Island and many of the players live closer to the coliseum.

But Bettman needs to officially sign off on the arena before the Isles can pack their skates, and that will involve further improvements to the coliseum, which doesn’t have any revenue-generating suites.

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

Prokhorov and Barclays CEO Brett Yormark are doubtlessly hoping Bettman finds the coliseum “viable” enough to host regular-season NHL games by the start of the 2018-10 season.

But before Jan. 30, all three parties involved will have to come to an agreement that the Isles will remain here in Brooklyn until Belmont is ready, with the coliseum serving as an interim home for the franchise.

“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 back in December.

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

Isle Have Another: Normally, playing an expansion franchise is a reprieve for most established NHL teams. But the Vegas Golden Knights own the best overall record in the Western Conference at 32-11-4 entering Thursday’s game vs. the Isles, and they are an even more impressive 19-2-2 on home ice. “The days of the underdog expansion talk should have ended a while ago,” said New York head coach Doug Weight as the Isles tried to bounce back from Monday night’s 3-2 overtime loss in Arizona. “I think they’ve proven that they’re a heck of a team and have proven that they’re not going away.”

 


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