Are Islanders Brooklyn Bound Or Is Quebec Calling?

  • Monday, June 18, 2012 8:19 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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The New York Islanders need a new home. The glory years at Nassau Coliseum when the Isles were hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup on a regular basis are long gone. The 40-year-old arena in Uniondale (opened February 11, 1972) is showing its age. Simply put, it is not fit for a modern day NHL franchise. How bad is it? Last March it was reported that claims of asbestos contamination were being investigated. Even if the New York Department of Labor concludes that the air is safe, who wants to go to a hockey game in a building with an asbestos problem?

And it isn't just asbestos. The arena is the second oldest in the NHL after Madison Square Garden, which opened on February 11, 1968. MSG also had asbestos fall from the ceiling last year, postponing a Knicks basketball game. But the world's most famous arena is in the middle of a massive $850 million, three-summer renovation project. Nassau is also the second smallest arena (16,250 seating capacity) after the home of the Winnipeg Jets, MTS Centre (15,015).

So Nassau needs to go. But where will the Isles go? There are a few possibilities. First, it should be noted that the lease runs until 2015, so barring health inspectors declaring the building unsafe due to asbestos contamination, the Isles could very well stay there another three years. Back in 2004 Isles owner Charles Wang proposed the Lighthouse Project, which would have have built a new arena on the same site along with housing, hotels, restaurants, stores and offices. Unfortunately for Islanders fans who want to keep the team on Long Island, Nassau County voters struck down the project last year.

So unless Wang pulls off a miracle, three years from now the Islanders will likely no longer be residing on the Island. Well, at least not in the suburbs. Did you know that the New York City borough of Brooklyn is technically a part of Long Island? And that the Brooklyn Nets will be playing in the sparkling new Barclays Center next season? And that the Isles are playing a preseason game against the New Jersey Devils in Brooklyn on Oct. 2?

But before looking at the likelier option of the Islanders moving to Brooklyn, there is a city in Canada that is hungry for professional hockey to return. Quebec City lost the Nordiques in 1995 when the team relocated to Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche. Quebecers have recently been forced to watch another Canadian city get back their team when the Jets returned to Winnipeg. How passionate are Nordiques fans to get a team back? Well, they certainly have their sights set on the Islanders. In fact, in December 2010 an estimated 1,100 Nordiques fans arrived in a bus caravan from Quebec City to invade Nassau Coliseum and voice their support for the Isles moving north.

With fans willing to travel 550 miles from Quebec City to Uniondale, N.Y., the people want the NHL back. And the arena is coming too. In fact, what perfect timing, the New Quebec City Amphitheatre, also called Quebecor Arena, is due to open in 2015, the same year the lease expires at Nassau. And it will seat 18,000, which is more than the Barclays Center, which will only be able to seat 14,500 for hockey, making it the smallest arena in the NHL. There is the possibility that the Columbus Blue Jackets or the Phoenix Coyotes could relocate to Quebec City, which would provide much relief to Islanders fans. But if the Coyotes get their ownership issues sorted out they will stay in the desert and the NHL really wants Columbus to work out, even placing the All Star game there next season. And even if the Jackets or Coyotes decide to move, there is no guarantee it would be to Quebec. Other relocation options include Seattle, where there is a proposal to build a new arena in the SoDo neighborhood; Kansas City, the home of the new Sprint Center; and Hamilton, Ontario, home to Copps Coliseum.

But Brooklyn is the better and likelier option for the Islanders. Even with the low seating capacity, Barclays Center is a natural fit. First, the location would allow the Isles to retain their identity and fan base. And the team has an agreement with their cross-town rival Rangers that allows them to relocate anywhere in Long Island, including Brooklyn and Queens. In addition to the preseason game against the Devs, Russia's Kontinental Hockey League will be playing some games at Barclays, so it is definitely hockey ready. But NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said recently that, in addition to the small capacity, the Barclays Center is hard to get to for Islanders fans living in Queens and Long Island. Bettman made this comment despite the fact that Barclays sits atop one of the largest transit hubs in New York, with easy access to many subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road commuter trains.

What do you think? Will the Islanders stay in Nassau? Move to Brooklyn? Relocate to Quebec City? Skate somewhere else?

NYC Blizzard: Rangers Lovin' It, Devils and Islanders Not So Much

  • Tuesday, December 28, 2010 11:55 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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It's not often you get the chance to see all three of New York's hockey teams in two nights, but that is exactly what I did. I'm in NYC for the holidays and decided to take in a couple of games -- Sunday night the Devils-Leafs at The Rock and Monday night the Rangers-Isles at MSG.

Newark and Manhattan are only a few train stops apart, but the atmosphere inside of the Prudential Center and Madison Square Garden could not have been any more different.

Sunday, New York and most of the Eastern Seaboard got pounded by a massive snow storm that dumped over 20 inches of snow along with wind gusts of 30 to 40 mph. It was the sixth largest snow storm on record in NYC and newscasters and public officials were advising people to stay home.

So what did I do? What any crazy hockey fan would do. I walked from my sister's apartment in Battery Park City through the snowy, wind-whipped winter night to the World Trade Center PATH station and traveled via train to Newark's Pennsylvania Station and then somehow found The Devils' home arena in the almost zero visibility weather.

What happens if you have a hockey game and no one shows up? That's almost what happened in Newark on Sunday night as the Devils and Leafs, both last place teams, dropped the puck shortly after 7 p.m. before a nearly empty arena. The announced crowd was a little over 5,000, but the actual attendance was probably closer to 3,000. And there were lots of hardy Leafs fan in the stands waving Canadian flags and Maple Leafs banners, and chanting "Go Leafs Go!."

Toronto won the game 4-1 in a snoozer. This was professional hockey at its worst. The highlight of the night was a fight between the Devils' 100-million-dollar bust Ilya Kovalchuk and Toronto's Captain Dion Phaneuf.

The Devils' sorry season continues. They have a long way to go to becoming a winning organization again. It really is rock bottom at The Rock. But returning interim head coach Jacques Lemaire knows how to win, guiding the Devils to the Stanley Cup in 1995. He took over for fired coach John MacLean and while suffering through losses in his first two games, once he has some time with the team, there should be more positive results on the ice.

But one thing I've got to say is that the brave souls in Devils jerseys who ventured out to the game on Sunday night were mostly respectful and cheered on the Devils, albeit sometimes sarcastically, despite the many opportunities for the boo birds to come out with awful play after awful play by their home team. On the other hand, the Leafs fans were just plain obnoxious, at one point chanting "Kovalchuk Sucks!" and celebrating like they weren't actually a team in last place in the Northeast Division with only 30 points.

The attendance was so sparse (New Jersey transit shut down all bus service at 8:30 so many fans left early) that halfway through the second period, the PA announcer said that all ticket holders in the upper bowl could move down to ice level. Soon after that there was a mad dash to get the best seats as close to the ice as possible. It was great for the Leafs fans who got to harass NJ's struggling goalie Martin Brodeur, who is suffering through one of his worst seasons as a pro, and then his replacement Johan Hedberg.



As the game ended, a disgruntled Devils fan stood up and yelled "You're trash! You're garbage! You belong in a garbage can!" And the frustration continued at the exit as some angry fans started yelling when the staff ran out of free Devils cheerleaders calendars. Then it was off into the cold, snowy night in Newark and a train ride back to Manhattan that took twice as long as usual because of the snow storm.

Later that night I watched a replay of the Islanders game on TV. There were only a few hundred people who made it out to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. And most of those people were Montreal Canadiens fans, making the game have the surreal quality of being a road game for the hometown Islanders. With the Long Island Rail Road service suspended because of the snow, and the roads virtually unpassable, it is a mystery how these Habs fans managed to make it out to the game. They didn't have much to root for as the Isles won 5-1. But even with the win, it had to have been disconcerting for the Isles players to look up and see a mostly empty arena except for a few hundred fans cheering the visiting team.

The next night I took the subway to the most famous arena in the world -- Madison Square Garden. While the snow was still fresh on the ground and the bitterly cold wind was causing snow drifts, thousands of New Yorkers piled into MSG to cheer on their beloved Blueshirts as they prepared to play the Isles.

I didn't have a ticket so I waited outside until after the game had started and was lucky enough to nab a $185 club seat for $40 from a fan who was desperate to get rid of his tickets. The seat was awesome, only about ten rows up and just to the right of the visitor net.

While MSG is certainly showing its age (there are plans for a multi-million dollar renovation), there is a special feeling being in this historic complex. It is humbling to see the Rangers Stanley Cup banners hanging from the rafters, dating all the way back to the 1920s, as the Original Six franchise this year celebrates its 85th anniversary.

The atmosphere was electric as the Blueshirts put on a show for their loyal and boisterous fans by dominating the Isles after breaking a tight game open in the second period to skate to a 7-2 win. The 18,200 seat arena was nearly full for the big win despite the snow.

Unlike the few Devils fans and zero Islanders fans the night before, on the night after the historic snow storm Rangers fans entered the cold New York night happy with a win.

Can Tavares Save The Islanders?

  • Thursday, July 2, 2009 1:22 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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The woeful New York Islanders recently selected Canadian phenom John Tavares as the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft. While the franchise tag has already been stamped on the Gretzky-like goal scorer, he might help the Isles do more than just win games. Tavares might help keep the hockey team on Long Island. A lot of weight on the shoulders of an 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ontario, eh?

The Islanders have been playing their home games in Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, since 1972 and the arena is starting to show its age. The Coliseum is currently the third oldest arena in the NHL after Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena and NYC's Madison Square Garden. (The Penguins are getting a new arena, Consol Energy Center, set to open for the 2010-2011 season.) The arena also has the smallest capacity without standing room.

So, the familiar story is repeated again: the Isles owner Charles Wang is threatening to move the team unless his redevelopment plan of the 158-acre Coliseum site is approved by the town of Hempstead.

The "Lighthouse Project" has already been approved by Nassau County and an environmental impact review has been completed. Wang is just waiting for Hempstead to approve a change in land zoning. If approved, construction is likely to begin in 2010.



Which brings me back to Tavares. If he lives up to the hype surrounding him and turns the Isles into playoff contenders again, and just as importantly fills seats and creates a buzz, then there is less of a chance Wang will move the team to Hamilton, Winnipeg or Kansas City (the Isles will play an exhibition game in Kansas City, which has rattled the nerves of some long-time Islanders fans).

Representatives from Hempstead must have taken notice of the media attention focused on Long Island after the Isles drafted Tavares. Heck, Islanders fans even protested in support of a new arena back in February.

It is undeniable that one player can turn around the fortunes of a struggling franchise. Look at how Wayne Gretzky put Southern California on the hockey map and eventually paved the way for Sun Belt franchises such as Phoenix (I know, bad example). Or how Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have revived the Penguins and Capitals.

Wang wants an answer from Hempstead by October. Traffic is the biggest concern for Hempstead supervisor Kate Murray. She recently joined Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and Sen. Charles Schumer to press for federal transportation funding to deal with traffic issues. Wang recently met with Murray and Suozzi and sounded a more optimistic tone in regards to keeping the team on Long Island.

Perhaps he should bring Tavares to a town council meeting to make the pitch. He is the best reason to ignite the Lighthouse project.

Otherwise, how does the Kansas City Islanders sound?