The hot-button topic in the NHL, especially in the New York area for the past week, has been the referendum to for Nassau County residents to vote on a new Nassau Coliseum, where the New York Islanders call home.
The arena proposal was destroyed at the polls, even after the date was in essence chosen to get the arena to pass by having it staged on a Monday in August when many people wouldn’t bother to pass up a day in the pool or at the beach in favor of voting. Well, that didn’t work out, as the “No” vote won about 6-to-4.
This leaves the Islanders in a predicament, as owner Charles Wang has said there was no Plan B if this proposal fell through. It is now obvious a publicly funded arena in Nassau County, which already has some of the highest property taxes in the country, will not happen, leaving Wang with few options. He can buy the land from the county and begin building a new arena out-of-pocket to keep the Islanders in Uniondale; he can look to build an arena- whether it be publicly or privately funded- outside Nassau in Suffolk County or Queens; or he can sell the team off, which would ultimately spell the end of the Islanders in New York.
“I have to tell you I’m disappointed and to put it very bluntly, I’m heartbroken,” said Wang at a press conference from Nassau Coliseum just before midnight Monday. “I have to tell you it’s a very emotional day for us.”
There are reports suggesting the best option could be the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, where the New Jersey Nets (re-dubbed the Brooklyn Nets) will begin play in 2012. For that to work, though, Wang will have to sell the team to Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov. There’s already a dent in those plans, as the Russian billionaire today said he has no interest at this time to own another sports team. That can obviously change by the time 2015 rolls around if Wang has no other option.
If the deal is made between Wang and Prokhorov, the move could have another hurdle, as the Barclay’s center would only hold about 14,500 seats for hockey games, about 2,000 less than the already small Nassau Coliseum. Would the NHL have a problem with such a small arena? There is reason to believe they would, especially after the MTS Centre in Winnipeg received scrutiny for its lack of space.
From a hockey standpoint, this is a tough break for a very loyal franchise that has no doubt seen better days. The Islanders have been bottom-dwellers for a half-decade now, but there is clearly light at the end of the tunnel with young stars like John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner showing promise the past two seasons.
The move would hurt the entire game of hockey and make the NHL look awful. If this league cannot support a team in the New York area, arguably the biggest sports market in the country, then something is wrong. The NHL and Gary Bettman will have to interject and get involved with what now appears will have to be Plan E for Wang. If the Islanders leave New York, it would be the first time a major organization left the area since 1957 when the baseball Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers headed west for California.
A move would obviously hurt Islanders fans the most, but whether they want to admit it or not, Rangers fans would hurt from the move as well. Although I believe the Blueshirts’ rival with the New Jersey Devils has been the superior rivalry on the ice, there is no denying there is no better rivalry for Rangers fans than with Islanders fans. The three games each year at the Coliseum always have a playoff-like atmosphere, whether both teams are in first place or at the back of the pack.
Wang and the Islanders have to figure something out, and fast, or the NHL and New York will lose one of its most successful sports teams the town has ever known.
Matt Calamia is a life-long New York Rangers fan. He covers the team daily at his blog www.nyrblueshirtblog.com, as well as The Hockey Writers. He graduated from Stony Brook University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He can be reached at [email protected] as well as on Twitter @MattCalamiaTHW