Countdown underway for Isles’ Brooklyn exit
Groundbreaking at Belmont Park signals beginning of end
The Islanders never belonged here in Brooklyn.
Those exact words never came out of the mouths of any of the state officials or the franchise’s ownership during Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony in Elmont, N.Y., but the sentiment echoed from Belmont Racetrack to Downtown’s Barclays Center if you listened closely enough.
“The Islanders belong on Long Island — and today we start building the state-of-the-art home this team and their fans deserve while generating thousands of jobs and billions in economic activity for the region’s economy,” said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Though the shoveling was ceremonial, construction of the proposed arena adjacent to the legendary horse-racing venue has begun in earnest and is likely to be finished in time for the 2021-22 NHL season, which will be the first since 2015-16 that the Islanders won’t play a single game here.
Our fair borough was an ill-fit from the start for this NHL squad, whether it was the poor ice conditions at the Downtown rink, complaints regarding the sight lines, league-worst attendance figures and a general malaise following the long-time Long Island-based franchise’s arrival.
Even former Barclays Center owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who officially completed the sale of both the Brooklyn Nets and the arena to Joseph Tsai for a record-breaking $3.5 billion last week, was eager to see the Isles play elsewhere due to a lack of worthwhile revenue from the team’s home games.
But the Isles won’t be here much longer — likely just another two seasons — beginning with the 2019-20 campaign, which will officially kick off here on Nov. 5 against Ottawa.
New York was originally scheduled to play 20 games here in Brooklyn this coming season, but announced during Monday’s groundbreaking that seven of those contests, including the original Oct. 6 Barclays opener, have been moved to NYCB Live, a.k.a. the renovated Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale.
“With seven more Islanders games at the Coliseum this season, fans will have even more opportunities to see their favorite team and generate momentum for the move to their new home in two years,” Cuomo said of the scheduling changes, which will leave Brooklyn with only 13 home dates this year.
“At the end of the day this project is about building on two great Long Island traditions – Belmont Park and the Islanders – and making them greater than ever.”
The Islanders won their first playoff series since 1993 right here in Brooklyn on former team captain John Tavares’ overtime goal in Game 6 against Florida back in the spring of 2016.
They reached the playoffs again last year and swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round, winning both of their home contests at the Coliseum, before being swept by Carolina in the Eastern Conference semifinals after dropping a pair of home dates at Barclays.
Whether they played here or out on Long Island, the Isles have certainly showed great signs of improvement on the ice, going from the league’s worst defensive team to its best last season under Jack Adams award-winning head coach Barry Trotz.
But that success hasn’t translated at the box office, where New York ranked dead last on the 31-team circuit with a paltry 12,442 fans per night average between the two arenas for its 41 home dates.
The new Belmont arena, which will seat upwards of 19,000, is expected to change all that, but for the next two campaigns, the Isles will still have at least one skate here in Brooklyn.
Former Isles owner and Brooklyn Tech alum Charles Wang brought the Isles here for what he claimed was an “iron-clad 25-year agreement” back in 2015, but the franchise, which originated in Uniondale back in 1972, never quite fit in the Nets’ home arena, which officially opened in 2012.
That point was driven home several times during Monday’s ceremonies.
“Thanks to the commitment, dedication and vision of Gov. Cuomo, Islanders fans are getting the world-class home this team deserves,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “The Islanders belong on Long Island and the future is incredibly bright for this franchise.”
“We celebrate this historic day with our loyal fans and thank Governor Cuomo, who has championed the Belmont Park Arena project from the start,” added Isles co-owner Jon Ledecky. “The Islanders also thank the elected officials and our community for their support in helping reach this franchise milestone.”
Below is a list of the seven games that will be moved from Brooklyn to Long Island this season:
Sunday Oct. 6, 7 p.m. vs. Winnipeg Jets
Tuesday Oct. 8, 7 p.m. vs. Edmonton Oilers
Sunday Oct. 27, 7 p.m. vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Thursday Jan. 2, 7 p.m. vs. New Jersey Devils
Monday Jan. 6, 7 p.m. vs. Colorado Avalanche
Thursday Jan. 16, 7 p.m. vs. New York Rangers
Tuesday Feb. 25, 7 p.m. vs. New York Rangers
There is still is no word regarding the split of games between the arenas that will come during the 2020-21 campaign, which will certainly be the last one in which the Isles will be Brooklyn-based.
Isle Have Another: Though they aren’t long for Brooklyn, the Isles are closing in on their Oct. 4 season opener at NYCB Live against Washington. They continued to prepare for the 82-game grind of an NHL campaign with Monday night’s 3-2 overtime victory over Detroit in Uniondale. Team captain Anders Lee, who wielded a shovel during Monday’s groundbreaking, scored the game-winner in the extra session and Jordan Eberle added a pair of goals for New York, which improved to 4-1 in preseason play. “We came out of the box playing quick and we had lots of pace to our game,” Trotz said. “That helped us get off to a good start. Then we scored two goals and I think we started thinking it was going to be easy. We started getting fancy, playing east and west and lost our pace. They started getting their legs and forechecking. We didn’t generate anything in our second period…I thought our group battled back together and I really liked our third period.”
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