Islanders owner is planning to move the club to the new Barclays Center in 2015. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters/Files)
The New York Islanders are moving about 23 miles away, far less a distance than some cities yearning for an NHL team had hoped.
In the midst of a lockout, the league gave its blessing Wednesday for the Isles to depart their historic Nassau County Coliseum, site of four Stanley Cups, for the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, starting in 2015.
Maverick owner Charles Wang ended years of bickering with Nassau politicians and businessmen about redeveloping the old site, choosing to take up with his ally, the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, Barclay’s main tenants. Wang has agreed to a 25-year “iron-clad” agreement for a building that currently seats just 14,500 for hockey, dashing any plans that potential markets such as Kansas City had to lure his team. The KC Sprint Center seats 18,000, as will the new Colisee in Quebec City when completed in about two years. Seattle, which was hoping to land the Edmonton Oilers at one time, is also in the building process and Markham, Ont., has a 20,000-seat idea it’s now formulating.
“Hello Brooklyn,” a beaming Wang said a the news conference. There comes a point where you have to make a decision.”
Wang often threatened a move out-of-state to facilitate a new rink and at one time was in talks to locate next to Citi Field in Queens where the baseball Mets now play. But he has been in talks with the Nets about seven years to play in a modern joint facility, as they did when Nassau first opened.
“I was impressed with (the Barclay design) since I saw the drawings,” Wang said. “(Nassaus officials) were disappointed. But it has been very well-known that we were looking.”
Commissioner Gary Bettman was quick to tut-tut critics of Barclay capacity, saying that Winnipeg did well its first year with 15,000 at the MTS Centre and that changes to the horseshoe design at Barclay between now and 2015 could get the Isles’ to exceed the Jets in attendance. Nassau had room for 16,234, but lacked private boxes among other amenities. The proximity to the Rangers home at Madison Square Garden and the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., should keep Barclay full, while one Ranger fan e-mailed ESPN, crowing he now had three home rinks to watch the Blueshirts within a short train ride of Penn Station.
“Charles has spent tens of millions of dollars to keep the Islanders local,” Bettman said. “It’s a dream come true for him.”
Bettman said he encouraged Wang to close the deal and make the announcement this week, despite the collective bargaining cloud above the NHL .
“Unhappy as we are to be in a CBA (dispute), we have a $3.3 billion business we’re trying to run and improve,” Bettman said. “So we can’t allow paralysis to the business. We want a league back that is in shape and growing.”
Bettman said that any extra hockey-related resources generated by the move to Barclay won’t be counted until 2015 and should not complicate current CBA talks.
Wang’s unorthodox ways were part of the reason the Isles faded in the past decade, okaying bizarre trades and moves such as Rick DiPietro’s mega-contract. The team has missed the playoffs six of the past seven years and 13 of the past 17. Wang did want to stay in the suburban arena where they began in 1972 and had ruled the NHL from 1980-83. The move comes on the 24th anniversary of Mike Bossy announcing his retirement. from the club. Wang made the decision to leave in the midst of another Nassau County effort to find a solution and while he promised to honour Wang will honour the last two years of his Nassau lease, but said “anything can happen” regarding mutually breaking it before 2015.
“It’s sad they’re leaving,” said Cliff Fletcher, general manager of the Atlanta Flames when they joined the NHL with Bill Torrey’s Isles in ‘72. “But the building was out-dated and now they’re going to a great area.”
Though they’ve moved near the tip of Manhattan, the Isles are geographically still on Long Island and will retain the team name. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented Wang and general manager Garth Snow with city transit passes, symbolic of the 11 subway lines and Long Island Railroad stop that services the $1 billion, Frank-Gehry designed building . A KHL exhibition game is to be the first Barclay Center hockey game in January.
This will be the second Brooklyn-centric NHL team, after the struggling New York Americans shifted operations at the start of World War II to nearer the busy Brooklyn Naval Yard. But they only lasted the 1941-42 season, dropping the NHL from seven teams to what became the Original Six. Much to the chagrin of NHL wannabe cities, the Isles might not be up for grabs again until 2040.
TOP 5 CITIES LOOKING FOR AN NHL FRANCHISE
1. Quebec City
An 18,000-seat rink should be finished in 2015, for both an NHL team and a future Winter Olympics bid, with the support of major companies such as Quebecor. Fans who never let the Nordiques flame die often travel en masse to Long Island to make their point. The rink’s completion date makes the struggling Coyotes a good bet.
It has been in the news after Oilers owner Daryl Katz began looking there to pressure Edmonton council for a new rink on his terms. Seattle’s arena project is mainly to get the NBA back, but $200 million of public funds makes it attractive to Katz.
3. Kansas City
The Sprint Center has hosted a few well-attended NHL exhibitions and is owned by the same company running the Los Angeles Kings. K.C. was linked to a possible move of the Isles and before that, Pittsburgh and Nashville.
4. Southern Ontario
Hamilton still can’t get over Ottawa’s nifty footwork in the 1992 expansion, but since has endured a parade of teams who’ve used the Steel City as leverage. Proposed arenas in Markham or elsewhere in the GTA have more of a chance now, but only if expansion is ever discussed again. .
5. Las Vegas
Not the strong bet it was a few years ago, but Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer is still waving the flag for a gaudy new arena.