Friday, March 13, 2009

Lights out on the Islanders?

Kyle Okposo scored the overtime winner Thursday night in a rare road victory for the New York Islanders as they defeated the Montreal Canadians 3-2 at the Bell Centre. Former Habs prospect Yann Danis got the win in front of friends and family as he made twenty-four saves; including a stellar save on a shorthanded break-away by Chris Higgins in the first period. The Brown University star is doing all he can to earn a contract for next year as the backup to injured starter Rick Dipietro but if he does earn a multi-year deal, will the team still be on Long Island at its conclusion?

This summer while most NHL teams will be discussing which free agents to sign, New York Islanders owner Charles Wang will be pondering his next move; perhaps a move out of New York. As baseball's New York Yankees and Mets take up residence in their new state of the art stadiums and Madison Square Garden undergoes a lengthy renovation for the Rangers, the Islanders are looking to escape from the confines of Nassau Coliseum. The third oldest rink in the NHL, renovating the Coliseum has been a point of contention between Wang, the town of Hempstead and Nassau County since he took over the team in 2000. The Islanders owner feels the solution lies in his $3 billion development proposal - "The Lighthouse Project".

The Lighthouse Project is currently in the environmental review process and a six thousand page report is now in the hands of Nassau County officials. The plan is huge in it's scale and would create a whole new entertainment district on Long Island. The plan includes a new or renovated Nassau Coliseum for the Islanders, 2,300 apartments and town houses, a minor league ballpark, a sports technology center, a practise facility for the hockey club, a live performance theatre, a 5-star 300 room hotel, trolley system and acres of underground parking. The project would create seventy-five thousand construction jobs over ten years and nineteen thousand permanent jobs. Wang made this comment recently on NTV (Newsday), "I think it will be tremendous. It will give us an identity. We deserve something great for Long Island."

Wang is the co-founder of Computer Associates International and has lived in New York since the age of eight, earning his degree in mathematics from Queens University. A life-long New Yorker, he is not a new NHL owner looking to make fast money by moving his franchise but he feels a decision needs to be made on the future of his hockey club. In a MSG TV interview, he made this comment, "We must have certainty on this project - go, or no go - by the beginning of the next hockey season. After seven years, it is time."

The Islanders have been at or near the bottom in attendance figures for several years. While the poor performance of the team is certainly a contributing factor, the age and size of the Coliseum are a major hurdle in the future success of the Islanders. With 16, 234 seats and a lack of revenue generating luxury boxes, the Islanders claim Wang is losing $20 million per year by keeping the team in New York. The current lease at Nassau Coliseum expires after the 2015 season but the Islanders could be on the move well before then. A clause in the development proposal could see the team leaving as soon as possible. If the County approves the development plan, it would then go to the town legislature where they would have one hundred and twenty days to approve the new lease agreement. If they do not grant approval on the new lease or delay their decision, it essentially breaks the current lease agreement and the team can start packing.

When asked on NTV if his plan to hold an exhibition game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Islanders in Kansas City was a subtle threat to the County, Wang had this reply, "I don't think it was that subtle." He went on to explain that the arena in Kansas City is operated by AEG, which is also the owner of the Kings and it was their suggestion to hold a game there.

It would be very convenient for AEG to find a new tenant for their arena and the Islanders situation makes them a possible candidate. Why not showcase the team for Kansas City fans? Whoever came up with the idea, there is no doubt that Kansas City is the favoured destination for NHL teams in trouble. With a brand new arena sitting empty and a June deadline for the approval of the Lighthouse Project, it should make for an interesting Spring in New York. If you are an Islanders fan, you might want to make that Long Island Iced Tea in a travel mug. Have a great sports day everyone.

1 comment:

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