Islanders Bits: Wishart Signs; Prospect Camp; All that Hockey Makes Me Hungry for Politics

Did I ever tell you about the time I destroyed Shayne Corson? Ohhh, you're right, Casey: it did happen more than once.

[Updated at 9:30 a.m. with plenty more links and discussion fodder.]

Outstanding end to the week (save for U.S. Women's National Team soccer fans) with the Islanders prospect game entertaining fans and concluding mini-camp. As the official site and our Blue vs. White game thread put it: Nothing like getting a taste of hockey in July.

Of course, the much larger backdrop to the weekend and the two weeks leading up to Aug. 1 is the Nassau Coliseum referendum vote, and the many shades of gray politics currently swirling around that issue. While a story about the potential costs of the Islanders leaving got decidedly not-front-page treatment from Newsday, the most significant story of the weekend may have been their front-page piece on the lease details, and how "finalized" they will be before Aug. 1.

As always, there are conflicting views, conflicting details on that one:

Michael Picker, senior vice president of the Islanders organization, said the lease as now written was 99 percent complete and language was being clarified.

So, that's the team's version. Though frankly, from the reporting I'd venture all of the main concepts, agreements, and what Wang is offering are quite clearly on the table for voters two weeks before they go to the polls (or alternatively, ignore the polls and just throw frozen dinners at their televisions). Since even if/when the Aug. 1 referendum passes, both the County legislature and NIFA will have their turns, it's hard for me to find the lack of "final" lease details too alarming.

But others (including Republicans) disagree:

Peter Schmitt, presiding officer of the legislature, and county Comptroller George Maragos [voiced reservations].

Schmitt said in an interview that the public will essentially be voting on a "conceptual" idea rather than the specifics of building a new Coliseum or the terms of the lease itself. [...] "Everything is all murky right now," said Schmitt, who like Mangano is a Republican.

Of course, those are disagreements on how much of the lease is set in stone before the referendum vote. As several imply in the article, the legislature can still request alterations to the lease as a condition of voting for it. They can pretty much do what they will and use a "no" vote as a threat. As for Aug. 1, one would think voters want to vote precisely on "a concept", given that their legislature will have a crack at it afterward anyway.

So to me the juicy bit that could be taken either way came earlier in the Newsday article (also discussed in this LHH user FanShot here):

Still under negotiation is a sublease between the hockey team and the Coliseum operator, a company created by Islanders owner Charles Wang, and how it would guarantee revenue to the county. Another key element is a nonrelocation agreement that would keep the Islanders at the arena for 30 years even if Wang sells the team. Based on the terms of the proposed lease, he would be permitted to sell the Islanders after two seasons in the new facility. Also being worked out is how revenue generated by non-hockey events would be shared with the county.

(I can already see Pro Hockey Talk and Bleacher Report lifting that bit and making it a search-engine friendly headline: "Lease Allows Wang to Sell Islanders in Two Seasons.")

It's actually no-brainer to create a separate entity (still Wang-owned) to be the Coliseum operator. This protects Wang, who has sunk untold millions into venue and team. However, this setup also leaves the operation open to questions -- as does that line about permitting "a sale of the Islanders after two seasons in the new facility" -- about worst-case scenarios, such as if the team's revenues do not rebound, if the NHL sees another work stoppage or downturn in revenues, or any other environment-shaking event that elicits bankruptcy or leads Wang to bail on the team while continuing to operate the arena and parking.

That's the crux of these long-term arrangements between sports entity and municipalities: Why does the owner protect himself? Because things could go wrong. Why is the municipality worried about protecting itself? Because things could go wrong. (Which, I would think, brings the referendum back to the main issue for the voter: What do you want done with the Hub? And when?)

Anyway, sports teams seldom stay in the same hands for 30 years -- in fact, even Wang's decade-long ownership of the Islanders is somewhat rare in this era where the storied Montreal Canadiens have changed hands twice in the same timeframe. So it's no shock to see the lease would carry a (previously reported) nonrelocation agreement, and it's no shock that Wang would be permitted to sell while still operating the arena and parking. Everybody's seeking a desired outcome they can stomach, while trying to guard against a worst-case outcome that would leave them feeling remorse.

Should be a fun two weeks -- and to think, they'll just be an opening act before things play out in the legislature and NIFA speaks from the mountain top.

 

Actual Hockey Though

Well, hope you enjoyed the scrimmage, as it may be the last bit of hockey you get for a while. I missed it, but will watch a replay pay diligent attention to my conference call on second quarter earnings.

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