John Tavares took the Long Island Rail Road to Brooklyn this week to see the Nets beat the Chicago Bulls. Technically, Tavares saw an NBA playoff game, but he also took a long look into the future of his New York Islanders in the new Barclays Center. They’ll move there in the fall of 2015, if not before.
“You wonder what the setup will be like for hockey,” said Tavares, the 22-year-old centre and star of the team who is a candidate for the Hart Memorial Trophy as most valuable player in the NHL. “There’s still a lot to be determined. It’s a beautiful facility, world-class. Whenever we get there, it’ll be an exciting time and it’ll be a nice new home.”
In the meantime, the Islanders are getting a look at the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2007. Their first home game of the first round is Sunday at noon (ET) against the powerful Pittsburgh Penguins in Nassau Coliseum, which opened in 1972 and is the league’s oldest facility except for the newly renovated Madison Square Garden.
Or, as team owner Charles Wang has called the Coliseum, “a dump.”
Before Friday night’s Game 2 in Pittsburgh, the Islanders trailed 1-0 in the Eastern Conference quarter-finals. In Game 1, Tavares had no shots under repeated, hard checking. The inexperienced Islanders looked terrified in losing 5-0.
Perhaps their 16,170 fans will give them more spunk Sunday. “We’re going to play in the Coliseum,” defenceman Mark Streit said. “For the fans, for the whole franchise, it’s great and we will enjoy it. … This team hasn’t been in the playoffs for so long, it’s been a tough time.”
The Islanders last won a round 20 years ago. Their last Stanley Cup – their fourth of four in a row – came 30 years ago. Over decades, their Island became the Alcatraz of professional sports, where careers washed out to sea.
Although the Islanders’ record of 24-17-7 tied for 15th in the 30-team NHL, they ranked last in attendance this season at 13,306 per game, according to ESPN. Forbes’s preseason franchise valuation was No. 27 at $155-million (all currency U.S.). The Toronto Maple Leafs were No. 1 at $1-billion.
At Coliseum urinals, eye-level wall signs say “Brooklyn Welcomes the Islanders!” and “Reserve Your Seat Today.” Similar messages flash in the lobby of Barclays, in the downtown section of the rapidly gentrifying New York City borough.
The Isles will leave an isolated and outdated arena in a suburban parking lot near no public rail transportation or any residential streets in sight. Their spiffy, new building – within walking distance of many neighbourhoods – connects with 10 train lines.
The move of about 50 kilometres west on the Long Island land mass could come sooner than first planned. The Islanders will play an exhibition game there in September against New Jersey.
Commissioner Gary Bettman recently supported a move “as soon as possible.” Wang has said fall of 2014 might be nice.
“If Nassau County was inclined to let them go earlier, I know they would definitely be interested,” Bettman told the Associated Press Sports Editors.
They will leave bland, suburban midlands and move to a street called Flatbush, same name as the neighbourhood where Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers played in Ebbets Field.
So what could go wrong?
Start with problems with both buildings. According to Nassau County officials, the Islanders and the SMG corporation that runs the Coliseum need to pay their utility bills.
County Comptroller George Maragos this week put the total at $2-million. He recently told a Long Island television station: “If we don’t get it soon, we’re going to file papers in court.”