Having a home in Downtown Brooklyn and one out on Long Island isn’t the least bit uncommon for the lawyers, judges and other business people teeming around our fair borough these days.
But for an NHL franchise, it’s a bit unusual.
As reported in last week’s Eagle, the New York Islanders, the Brooklyn-based franchise that moved here from Uniondale, N.Y., in 2015, will spend the next three seasons splitting their home games between Downtown’s Barclays Center and their former longtime home, the Nassau Coliseum, now known as NYCB Live.
After some playful prodding from Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month and some serious pushing behind the scenes from Barclays Center and NYCB Live owner Mikhail Prokhorov the past few years, the Islanders and NHL finally agreed to let the team return to the arena where it was founded in 1972.
On a part-time basis, of course.
The Isles will play 12 of their games at the Coliseum next season and at least 20 per season in Uniondale over the following two campaigns until the franchise’s new state-of-the-art, 18,000-seat facility in Elmont, N.Y., adjacent to the legendary Belmont race track, is completed in 2021.
“There are about 120 games; three seasons,” Cuomo said during Monday’s press conference at NYCB Live.
“The number of games over those three seasons will be split, half at played Barclays Center and half played at the coliseum.”
How the Isles will split their potential postseason contests has not yet been addressed.
This certainly doesn’t qualify as a divorce between the Isles and Barclays, which has been an ill-fit here virtually from the start.
Think of it more as a trial separation that will conclude with both parties getting exactly what they want.
For Prokhorov, the Isles’ transition out of Brooklyn will open dates for more lucrative events to be held at the arena, including concerts, boxing cards and college basketball games, along with the Nets’ full home slate.
The Russian billionaire also won’t have to fret about dishing out upwards of $50 million per year guaranteed to the Isles, as per terms of the original lease agreement, which seemed a far-fetched figure for the NHL team with lowest home attendance numbers in the league.
The Isles will now have to endure the logistical discomfort of splitting their home dates over the next three seasons, but should see attendance numbers swell at the coliseum, where fans have been aching for their return.
They sold out “The Old Barn” back in September for a one-off exhibition contest and averaged more than 15,000 fans per night during the original swan song campaign on Long Island.
Also, the moaning about poor ice conditions and sight lines at Barclays will doubtlessly quell now that there is an official exit strategy.
“The [Coliseum] has obviously got a tremendous sense of history and tradition” Isles co-owner Jon Ledecky said, referring to the four Stanley Cup banners the team put up during the 1980s.
“Our fans are so excited to be here. I think if there were no seats, and they had to stand, 14,000 would come and stand here, that’s how excited they are.”
Also, a state-funded $6 million re-renovation of the arena should make it more suitable to host NHL games, previously thought of as the main sticking point in completing this deal due to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s long-standing mantra that the Coliseum wasn’t a “viable” place for the team to play.
“The coliseum will undergo some basic structural modifications, so it meets the specifications of the Commissioner” Cuomo added Monday
“It will also give us an opportunity to welcome back the Islanders to the place where they belong, which is Long Island.”
Other than the faithful Long Islanders who have taken the LIRR to Barclays over the last two-plus seasons, the franchise never truly caught fire as a must-see attraction here in Downtown Brooklyn.
After winning their first playoff series since 1993 here during the inaugural campaign, the Isles have regressed, both on the ice and at the ticket window.
Going home for a spell before moving into their new home feels right, especially to the players who have experienced both arenas.
“The team really belongs on Long Island,” Isles team captain and pending free agent John Tavares noted during last weekend’s All-Star festivities in Tampa.
“That’s where the team was born, created its identity and really who it is. I think if that’s the case it’ll be a great opportunity, a great experience to go back there and relive and create some more great history in that place.”
Tavares, who has the option to depart the only organization he has ever known this summer, was at the coliseum press conference and continues to insist that the Isles’ split-home schedule over the next three seasons won’t factor in his decision come unrestricted free agency in a few months.
“We know how our fan base felt about this place and us as players too,” Tavares said Monday.
“It’s really exciting with the development at Belmont, what that’s going to mean to the franchise long-term and then on the short-term basis, being able to come back to somewhere where really the heart of the franchise is.”
Isle Have Another: Tavares played in his fifth career All-Star Game last weekend, but after 10 years in NHL, Josh Bailey finally got his first trip to the annual midseason classic. Bailey, who ranks third in NHL with 42 assists this season playing alongside Tavares, soaked up the All-Star experience. “It was a good experience,” he said. “I think everyone was just out there having a good time and it’s nice getting to know some of the guys and it seemed like the fans enjoyed it too. I wouldn’t say I was overly enthused about doing fastest skater [during Saturday’s skills competition], but it is what it is. I tried to make the most of it.” … The Islanders returned from the All-Star break by hosting the Florida Panthers at Barclays on Tuesday night before hitting the road for the completion of a back-to-back at Toronto Wednesday.