Cal Clutterbuck scored an empty net goal capping off a 3-1 New York Islanders win over the Washington Capitals in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The setting was Uniondale NY’s Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the home of 4 consecutive Stanley Cups, the most impressive dynastic run in the modern sports era. However, although the Islanders forced a Game 7 in convincing fashion, the unfortunate truth still lurked in the back of fan’s minds. It very well could have been the last goal ever scored in the historic building. After a devastating Game 7 loss, fans fears became reality, and it is now fact that it very well could have been the last time an Islander lit the lamp in the suburbs.
The Isles first season in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center was wildly unsuccessful. Although the team’s performance on the ice remained impressive, the fan experience was not. It is extremely difficult to feel an advantage while playing at home when you are playing in three quarters of an arena. Behind one net sits a small set of bleacher type seats, with a mostly black backdrop, a Honda Pilot and for most of the season, a large advertisement for “Draft Ops,” a website which is used by essentially nobody. Players detested the commute, and fans rarely made the extended trip which included a hefty fee from the Long Island Railroad.
Although the Barclays Center offered an increase in seating availability compared the Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders still ranked in the bottom three in attendance among NHL teams despite remaining near the top of the standings all season. Their average number of attendees was 13,626 despite having the ability to seat 15,795. However, that number also includes the 1,500 limited view seats Barclays Center has to offer.
Furthermore, Brett Yormark, CEO of the Barclays Center, constantly made fans feel uncomfortable in their new home. Firstly, he forced new black jerseys on the team, completely disregarding the team’s storied tradition in order to pay homage to a recently renovated Brooklyn Nets franchise which has accomplished essentially nothing besides mortgaging their future on the Celtics washed up super stars and leaving themselves in a truly perilous long-term situation. He also tried to change the team’s beloved goal horn for a horrendous Long Island Railroad themed horn, which fans quickly attacked on Twitter. He also refused to allow fans to go down to ice level for pregame warm-ups, a practice which is not only allowed but encouraged at every other arena in the league and is a staple of the fan experience, especially for the young fans who hope to get lucky and catch a puck from their favorite players. The Islanders traditional “Ice Girls” were replaced by a generic “Ice Crew,” and the Islanders’ mascot, Sparky the Dragon, was not brought to Brooklyn until about halfway through the season. It seemed as though Yormark couldn’t do anything right unless fans clamored together on social media. Even then, Yormark complained about the fans inability to embrace change, when he was the one trying to switch up generational traditions. Hilariously, he begged for thanks after honoring fans wishes when they shouldn’t have even needed to ask to begin with. All in all, Yormark did a devastatingly awful job with the transition and showed his true colors, demonstrating his greedy ways. He disregarded the fans and their loyalty to the team’s treasured traditions in his pursuit of dollar signs.
With the renovation of the Nassau Coliseum on the way, it leaves fans to wonder if a return to the Island is still on the table for the New York Islanders. The new design, which is to be completed by Fall 2017, will house the newly formed Long Island Nets, a D-League team for the Brooklyn Nets. This new, modernized arena will feature the return of concerts to Long Island, but will only provide 13,000 seats. It is extremely unlikely that the NHL would allow a franchise to play in an arena with such a low capacity. Although the size and square footage will remain the same as it was in the old Nassau Coliseum, less seats means more spacing between seats and roomy areas. There will also be a significantly fewer number of luxury boxes available when compared to Barclays Center. It is these reasons that make a return to Long Island seem unlikely for the Isles.
However, there is still hope, and here’s why…
A politician finally held County Executive Ed Mangano accountable and put him on the seat, forcing him to face the issue of the Islanders and the Coliseum head on. Democratic legislator Judy Jacobs from Woodbury penned a letter to Mangano in which she stated, “(Developers) should increase the arena’s capacity to more than 17,000 to entice the Islanders to return. I am not a developer, obviously, but it does make sense to me to do everything possible during construction to make our venue as appealing possible.” In response to this, Mangano wrote, “the renovated arena is not smaller in scale than the existing 16,000 seat Coliseum, therefore the flexibility to increase seating exists should it be necessary.” County officials confirmed that the physical space exists in order to add the additional seating needed to entice the Islanders back to the Coliseum.
Thank you Judy. I thought I was the only one who figured it would make sense to bring the team home in a brand new, state of the art arena, and give thousands of fans exactly what they want. Besides, it would be too smart to make the same error in renovating the coliseum as they did when constructing the Barclays Center. Don’t make it compatible for a hockey team even though there is a team in the area nearing the end of their lease and gaining no traction in their renovation plans. Just make it 13,000 seats even though the capability exists to expand it and bring home a professional sports team. Maybe it makes a little too much sense.
With the rumors of discontent from both ends of the Islanders-Barclays Center deal paired alongside the upcoming transfer of power from Charles Wang to Jonathan Ledecky & Scott Malkin, we could be looking at a possible return after the 4 years of the 25 year deal are honored and the Islanders can exercise the opt-out clause. That means the Islanders could potentially be back on Long Island as soon as 2019. The same reported sources that voiced the discontent between both parties also reported that Ledecky has certainly been eyeing the opinions of fans and would love to bring the team back to their home. Hopefully we will find out more when the pair of former Harvard roommates takes over power of the Islanders on July 1st.
The Islanders were the fabric and the pride of Nassau County and Long Island as a whole. They were the only professional sports team Long Islanders had and were located in the center of “the hub” in Nassau County. Having a professional sports team was pretty much the only thing Nassau County offered which didn’t seem to be “second rate.”
Years of money hungry politics have constantly put Nassau County and its citizens in a position to receive second rate treatment and losing a successful professional sports team which was adored by residents and replacing it with the D-League basketball team of the franchise which hijacked their team is so Nassau that it hurts. The ineptitude of Nassau politics was finally exemplified and publicized and reached it’s zenith with the Nassau Coliseum and New York Islanders debacle.
However it is not too late to right the wrongs. Add in the additional seats and bring Long Islanders their team back. Replace that train commute with a trip down the Meadowbrook State Parkway. Fans want to honk their horns after wins again, not run to Atlantic Terminal hoping to get a seat so they don’t have to stand until they reach Babylon. Don’t let the team slip away to Las Vegas or Quebec. Bring the Islanders back to Nassau, and everybody wins.