Monday, August 8, 2011

My take on Islanders Arena

As many of you already know unless you were living on a different planet, the New York Islanders took a hit seven days ago when a majority voted against the referendum for a new Coliseum complete with a minor league ballpark and sports complex. Fifty-seven percent voted no, dealing another blow to club owner Charles Wang, who wants desperately to keep the team on Long Island.

Just from an outside perspective, it seems Nassau County doesn't care enough to keep the team. Perhaps another area of Long Island will come to the rescue. Whether that comes to fruition remains to be seen. Currently, the Islanders who are celebrating their 40th Anniversary for the upcoming 2011-12 season, have until the conclusion of '14-15 to play out the end of their lease. Afterwards, my guess is as good as yours. From now until then, that gives Mr. Wang a small window to get something done. Whether it's in Long Island or possibly Brooklyn or Queens, I am rooting for the Islanders to find a permanent home that keeps them part of our sportstown.

In a piece I did over on my other blog Hitting Back, I expressed how much the Islanders mean to our Tri-State area. The reason three hockey teams can work is because it's big enough for each to have their own fanbases. The Devils got their new palace. The Rangers are getting theirs with Madison Square Garden being renovated. The Islanders have remained in Nassau Coliseum throughout their existence. They deserve the same treatment despite Wang not exactly guaranteeing to put his own money on such a project. Something that can't be overlooked.

In my post, which took literally an arm and a leg to complete, I look at a franchise that's close to competing once again. It's the Islanders who boast more talent than either its neighbors. Do we really want to see them leave as things are about to get good? Here are the highlights from No Vote could spell doom for Islanders:

As was previously noted, the idea to push ahead a $400 million project on Nassau County without Mr. Wang coughing up anything aside from picking up the two million tab for a yes vote didn’t make much sense. Especially given the national debt crisis. For one of the heaviest taxed counties, the timing couldn’t have been worse. So perhaps it wasn’t a shock that a majority voted it down- unwilling to have more taken from their pockets for a referendum that could’ve cost as much as $800 million over a 30-year period had it passed.

The reality is 57 percent voted against the new proposal that came on the heels of Wang’s dream Lighthouse scenario which he wasted time/money on before moving forward. While he would’ve ponied up an arm and a leg had there been overwhelming support for the Lighthouse, the Islander club owner was unwilling to spend a nickel for his latest proposal. It was like he expected the public to deliver a new arena with all the trimmings because he lost over $250 million. Part of it’s the existing lease that runs out in 2015, unable to generate concession revenue- leading to higher costs and lower turnout. Combine that with a team that’s had little success since a ’93 Cinderella run and it’s easy to explain why the Islanders are in trouble.
How can Islander faithful get past last week’s defeat and try to look forward to a roster GM Garth Snow’s built? It’s impossible for anyone not to ponder the plight of the franchise. Unless Wang and Nassau County executive Ed Mangano come up with a new plan, the team is done with Nassau once the lease ends at the conclusion of 2014-15. Considering the opposition in a stubborn county, maybe it’s best for Wang to consider alternatives such as moving to Queens or even Brooklyn if Nets’ billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov changes his mind about icing a hockey team. Barclays Center will be an impossible commute unless fans are willing to make the trip on the tracks. Not exactly the easiest choice.

A new arena in Queens next to Citi Field would be a marketing dream which could provide easier driver access with public transportation also available. Would the city be willing to help build it for Wang, preserving a franchise rich in tradition? This isn’t the Yankees, Mets, Giants/Jets or Devils getting their own palaces. Even the Nets knew when it was time to get out of the disaster known as New Jersey Sports And Entertainment Authority (NJSEA). If the lockout ever ends, they’ll play out a second year in Newark and then finally reroute to Brooklyn.

The Islanders seem like an afterthought much like the four consecutive Cups they won from 1980-83, dominating hockey. Maybe it’s cause of where they play. It’s still unfair to forget the impact of the bright orange and dark navy blue, who pushed around the Great One to win one final Cup before the Oilers took the mantle away from Al Arbour, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Billy Smith, Bobby Nystrom, Butch Goring, Clark Gillies, Ken Morrow, Bob Bourne, Duane and Brent Sutter.

Those Islander teams boasted some of the greatest collection of talent to ever lace ‘em up. Imagine losing a franchise that was the gold standard three decades before the Yankees, Devils and even the Giants. The Bronx Bombers never won four straight, narrowly missing in the ’01 Fall Classic on the heels of 9/11. Out of that era, I choose the one my team lost to Arizona over ’96, ’98-00 because of what it meant to New York City and our country.

As a hockey blogger who’s followed the sport since the late 80′s, I can’t imagine life without the Islanders. They’ve always been the Rangers’ biggest rival. From all the classic series when they arrived to the old “19—40 chants,” until 1994 finally erased it forever, Long Island has always been our bitter enemy. As players from both sides have noted, the passion in the stands is what makes it so special. The energy and electricity at MSG or Nassau Coliseum are what make the games compelling. With apologies to the Devils, who have become our most universally loathed rival based on recent history, it’s the Islanders that are still No.1 in my book. When they’re good again, it’ll change instantly.

Rivalries are what make sports great theater. You have it in every sport with the latest installment of Yanks/Red Sox that concluded last night at Fenway. This upcoming season marks the 40th Anniversary for the Islanders. Forty years of hatred between two intense fan bases, whose emotions run high when the two teams take the ice. Whether it’s “Rangers Suck,” at The Coliseum or “Potvin Sucks,” at The Garden, this classic rivalry is one that MATTERS. Toss out the standings, stats or the names on the backs. It’s always been about the logo on the front. Players have changed allegiances. Each fanbase have welcomed a once hated enemy with open arms.

Chris Simon was once ours. A good Blueshirt when suddenly he became Public Enemy number one after his dangerous baseball bat swing connected with Ryan Hollweg’s neck. Thankfully, he was okay. Pat Lafontaine once donned all three New York jerseys, finishing his career on Broadway after successful stints with the Islanders and Sabres. Bryan Berard won a Calder with the Isles, eventually joining up with the Rangers. The list is endless.
The Islanders mean a lot to New York even if a select number of Blueshirt supporters can’t resist taking shots. This isn’t about having them to beat up. Or have we forgotten that the Isles are the grittier, scrappier bunch who bring a lunch pail work ethic to this rivalry? Sure. We have fatter pockets. But that’s never meant much against a classic rival.

The bottom line here is the Islanders are part of the fabric that makes hockey in the metro area special. No matter which way you root, there are always the other team's fans wherever the games are played. As our Devil blogger Hasan has echoed, Islander fans have invaded Newark. They have a strong following, which often gets overlooked due to the current poor arena situation. Not making the playoffs deters fans into staying away. Ticket and parking expenses don't help. Unfortunately, we live in tough times.

Amazingly, our run of five in six postseasons after going blank for a decade dwarfs the Isles. If Devil fans were spoiled for so long, then we actually have it a lot better than our No.1 enemy. The Rangers can always attract free agents because we have an owner who will pay top dollar. Until the Islanders get a new arena, they will continue to struggle recruiting UFA's. Say this for Garth Snow. The man tries. With a questionable future and not exactly a playoff lock yet, it's a tough sell for the Islanders. Look at the Devils since getting The Prudential Center. While they haven't been a free agent magnet, Ilya Kovalchuk re-signed last summer, surprising some. Their past success helps. Even if Hasan is not fond of Lou Lamoriello's post-lockout record, there's still a perception that you can compete for a Stanley Cup in Jersey. Until Tavares and Co. finally make the big dance, it will continue to be an uphill climb.
Hopefully, they'll get a new arena and continue to be part of our community.

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