The New York Islanders finally have a new home, and it’s in Brooklyn – the borough that is suddenly a hotbed of pro sports 54 years after baseball’s Dodgers headed west.
“It’s a new place and it’s only 35 minutes away by train,” team owner Charles Wang said at a news conference Wednesday. “Come and join us and see hockey.”
After seven months of negotiations, and offers to move the team out of New York, Wang announced that the Islanders will relocate about 25 miles west once their lease expires at Nassau Coliseum after the 2014-15 season.
Since the day the Islanders entered the NHL in 1972, the Coliseum in Uniondale has been the place for them. It’s where they grabbed the hockey spotlight, outshined the big, bad Rangers, and won the Stanley Cup four straight times from 1980-83.
But on Wednesday, the future became all about Brooklyn.
The move is hardly shocking and not even unprecedented. The NBA’s New York Nets left Nassau Coliseum way back when, relocated to New Jersey, and have moved into their new Brooklyn home — the new Barclays Center that will also house the Islanders.
Unlike the Nets, who changed the team logo and added Brooklyn to their name, the Islanders are sticking to their heritage through and through.
That is important to Mike Bossy, a Hockey Hall of Famer who now serves as the Islanders’ vice president of corporate partnerships.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Charles’ main goal was to keep the team local, and he succeeded in doing that. As much as people may be upset because it’s not going to be in Nassau County, they should be happy because he kept the team in New York.”
The Barclays Center sits across the street from the site Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley hoped to put a baseball stadium to keep his club in New York. He was unable to pull it off, so the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles in 1958 and the borough was without a major pro sports franchise until the Nets’ arrival this year.
Coincidentally, the Nets hosted the New York Knicks in an NBA exhibition game at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday night.
Real estate developer Bruce Ratner, a minority owner of the Nets, was instrumental in getting the Barclays Center built and paving the way for Brooklyn to re-enter the world of sports in a major way. The building is the main part of a $3.5 billion sports arena, business and residential complex called Atlantic Yards that was built by Ratner’s company.
The Islanders hope this move will help them on and off the ice. The team hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2007 and hasn’t won a postseason series since 1993.
Wang started Wednesday’s festivities in the lobby of the new arena with a bold proclamation of “Hello Brooklyn!”
He will have to wait a few years to finally see his team hit the ice in the intimate building that is expected to hold between 14,500 and 15,000 for hockey. Wang said he has no intention of trying to get out of his Long Island lease early. Once the Islanders settle into Brooklyn, they will begin a 25-year lease at the Barclays Center.
“The Islanders, I believe, will be strengthened because they were playing in an inadequate facility, and the fan experience here will be much better,” Bettman said. “If a franchise is strengthened, that’s good for everybody.”
And the NHL is certainly looking for any positive news it can get as the 39-day old lockout casts a pall over the hockey world. Bettman couldn’t avoid questions about the seemingly imminent announcement that regular-season games will be canceled for good.
Bettman set a deadline of today for a new collective bargaining agreement to be reached with the players’ association that would allow for a full 82-game season to be played beginning on Nov. 2. With no negotiations scheduled, and a divide between the sides seemingly growing wider, Bettman conceded that a shortened season is the most likely scenario.
“It looks like the 82-game season is not going to be a reality,” the commissioner said.