Isles say goodbye to Brooklyn… for now
First-place squad beats Edmonton in potential Barclays Center finale
There is a chance, albeit a small one, that the New York Islanders have skated on the Barclays Center ice for the last time.
With Saturday night’s 5-2 victory over Edmonton on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, the Metropolitan Division leaders finished off their regular-season slate here in Brooklyn.
One night earlier, the Isles learned that if they manage to reach the playoffs later this year — for the first time in three seasons — their first-round postseason home games will be played at the renovated Nassau Coliseum, known these days as NYCB Live.
The only chance the franchise will return for more games in our fair borough will come via a victory in that first-round series, something the Isles haven’t achieved since former captain John Tavares’ memorable Game 6 overtime winner against Florida at Barclays sent them into the second round for the first time since 1993.
“Following consultation with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, the New York Islanders and BSE [Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment] Global have announced that should the Islanders qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, any first-round home playoff games will take place at NYCB LIVE, home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum,” read Friday evening’s team-issued statement.
“Should the team qualify for further rounds of the playoffs, any home Islanders games will take place at Barclays Center, reflecting that the Nassau Coliseum does not qualify as an NHL major league facility.”
What’s left out of the statement is that there has already been plenty of chatter that the Isles, who are scheduled to split their home games between the Coliseum and Downtown Brooklyn over the next two campaigns, or at least until their new state-of-the-art facility in Elmont, N.Y., is completed, may be gone for good.
This past offseason, rumors abounded that the long-time Long Island-based franchise would scrap its remaining games in Brooklyn over the next two years and return to the Coliseum full-time until its facility adjacent to the legendary Belmont Race Track is open for business.
But without a single shovel being planted in the ground at Elmont yet, the Isles appear to be locked into their dueling home arenas setup until further notice.
“Any time our fans show up the way they have makes a huge difference for us, and we feed off their energy,” current team captain Anders Lee noted after scoring his team-leading 19th goal of the year at Barclays on Saturday night.
The Isles completed the Barclays portion of their schedule with an impressive 12-6-2 mark and boast a 6-1-2 record at the Coliseum. The team has already matched its overall win total (35) from last season, but none of this on-ice success has resulted in better numbers at the gate.
Saturday night’s crowd of 14,812, the team’s second-biggest of the campaign in Brooklyn, boosted the franchise’s season home attendance to 12,038 through 29 dates, still ranking the Isles dead last on the 32-team circuit.
While their home in Brooklyn boasts the modern amenities more commonly associated with NHL arenas in the new millennium, namely luxury suites, the Coliseum still offers the type of atmosphere the team enjoyed during its halcyon days in the 1980s, when it captured four consecutive Stanley Cup titles.
But it’s not a “major-league facility,” according to the commissioner’s office.
So, the Isles are left to play their final 12 home dates and anywhere between two and four first-round home playoff contests at a minor-league venue, albeit one much richer in tradition.
“Number one is we gotta get there,” head coach Barry Trotz insisted when asked about the league’s postseason plans for the Isles.
Ironically, it was Barclays that was deemed an ill fit virtually since the day the Isles moved in back in 2015, on what was then described by former team owner Charles Wang as an “iron-clad 25-year lease agreement”.
Players complained about the qualify of the ice, something that is still an issue due to the piping beneath the facility, and fans roared their disapproval over a lack of qualify sight lines, atmosphere and seating near the ice on one end at the built-for-basketball structure.
And yet, this is the arena where the team could play upwards of three playoff series following their initial postseason best-of-7 in Uniondale, N.Y.
More seats and suites result in more moolah for everyone involved — including the league, which is doubtlessly hoping that the proposed $1 billion, 19,000-seat Belmont Park Arena is fully operational by 2021 at the latest.
Until then, the Isles will continue their push toward the organization’s first championship since 1983 in two homes, one on Long Island and one here in Brooklyn.
The situation isn’t ideal, but winning is as good a cure as any, and the Isles are eager to make sure that no matter where they play, they just keep on playing.
“I think as we all know a decision had to be made,” team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello intimated.
“It’s behind us now; all we can do is just focus on what we have to do. We have to make the playoffs before we can activate any type of playoff schedule.”
Isle Have Another: Winners of five of their last six contests, the Isles will be out west and north of the border for the next week, kicking off a three-game road trip at Calgary on Wednesday night. New York will visit Edmonton on Thursday and Vancouver on Saturday before returning to the Coliseum next Tuesday to host Calgary.
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