Back to Brooklyn? For Islanders, Nassau Coliseum shutdown may mean return to Barclays Center

June 18, 2020 John Torenli
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The New York Islanders’ bye-bye to Brooklyn may have been a bit premature.

The NHL franchise, which has played all or at least half of its home games at Downtown’s Barclays Center since 2015, was expected to move back into its original arena, the renovated Nassau Coliseum, on a full-time basis for the 2020-21 campaign.

The Coliseum, also known as NYCB Live, was expected to host all 41 Islander home games next season before the team moved into its still-under-construction new home arena adjacent to the legendary Belmont Racetrack in time for the 2021-22 season.

But Coliseum owner Mikhail Prokhorov, the former owner of the Brooklyn Nets, shut down the 13,000-seat facility indefinitely this week in the hopes of finding investors to take over the remaining $100 million in debt on the arena’s lease.

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Prokhorov, who sold the Nets and Barclays Center to Joseph Tsai last year for a record $2.5 billion, cited the COVID-19 epidemic and its impact on the Coliseum’s economic viability for the shuttering of a building that has hosted sporting and concert events on Long Island since 1972.

“The unforeseeable and unprecedented COVID-19 crisis has had a devastating effect on the operations of the Coliseum and its finances,” Prokhorov’s Onexim Sports and Entertainment Group said in a statement Tuesday.

“While we still believe in the enormous long term economic value of the Coliseum and the development of the surrounding land, we recognize that such value will be best realized by other parties.”

Unless those parties show up soon and put the Coliseum back on its feet by this winter, it’s highly unlikely that the Isles will have a chance to play in Uniondale, N.Y., next year.

That’s where the Barclays Center comes back to the forefront as a potential temporary home for the team until the Belmont Project is completed.

The Islanders won their first playoff series since 1993 at Barclays Center in 2016, knocking off the visiting Florida Panthers in Game 6 on former team captain John Tavares’ overtime goal. Photo: Kathy Willens/AP

It was former Isles owner and Brooklyn Tech High School alum Charles Wang who dragged the Isles to our borough five years ago in the hopes of avoiding relocation for the franchise, which was drawing fewer fans and bleeding more money than almost every team in the league.

Though many decried the ill-fitting nature of hockey at Barclays, where poor ice conditions and bad sight lines drew complaints from players and fans alike, the team went a combined 85-48-21 in 154 regular season games here and also won its first postseason series since 1993 in Brooklyn.

The Isles, who are hoping to restart their paused season next month once the NHL announces which hub cities will host its 24-team race to the Stanley Cup, played what was expected to be their last game ever in Brooklyn on March 3, suffering a 6-2 home loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

“I don’t think they had much to cheer for,” Isles captain Anders Lee said of the Barclays crowd, which booed the team loudly in the closing moments of the opening period that night.

“We didn’t give them anything. I wouldn’t be cheering either.”

Soon after the league went dark on March 11, Isles team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello revealed that the team would play the remainder of its home games for this season and next at the Coliseum, canceling the last two dates the team had in Brooklyn on March 17 and 22.

Originally closed in 2015 for a reported $180 million renovation, the Coliseum hosted the Isles for over 40 years, including the halcyon days of the 1980s, when the team won four consecutive Stanley Cups and reached five straight Cup Finals.

Downtown real estate developer Bruce Ratner was in charge during the building’s renovation period and soon after its re-opening in 2017 before Prokhorov took over.

Ellen Pinchuk, a spokesperson for Onexim group, indicated that Prokhorov “has engaged with Nassau County, other important stakeholders, and potential investors to find the right party or parties to take over operations of the Coliseum.”

“We cannot predict or control the actions of other interested stakeholders,” she added. “However, we remain confident that the Coliseum and the proposed development project represent valuable investment opportunities, committed to the effort to find the right solution to the problems confronting the Coliseum, and hopeful that these efforts will bear fruit.”

In the meantime, the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush will likely once again emerge as a potential home for the Isles, whether they want to be there or not.

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  1. Linda kreuzburg

    Saving the coliseum. Why can’t the group that is involved in the Belmont arena buy the coliseum and pay the debt so the islanders can play one last season there before going to the new Belmont arena.