photo by Bruce Bennett via cdn2.sbnation.com
Hope grows in Brooklyn for the once, and perhaps future, model franchise of the NHL.
As I've mentioned so many times and in so many places, the Islanders are literally a part of me. I tore a gash above my right knee celebrating David Volek's overtime goal in 1993 (I was 8), and it's still there (even though it's migrated to my mid-thigh as I've grown) as a reminder that I do and literally have bled for the Islanders. I followed the Islanders arena process on the periphery when I was younger - in fact, I remember something about the "pigs at the trough" hiring Peter Eisenman (architect of this) to design a new arena in the late 90s - but I have followed the arena process in earnest since 2004. I wrote a paper for a college law course on current events about the Lighthouse Project, which had been unveiled, tying it into Sanjay Kumar's trial, the lockout, and zoning laws.
I supported the Lighthouse Project loudly and fervently as a shining new hope for the place where I grew up, a symbol of the new thinking that so desperately needed to take root on Long Island. After Kate Murray and the forces of Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil slit the Lighthouse Project's throat, I (and many of you) reluctantly supported the ultimately doomed arena - sorry, "areener" - referendum as a symbol of the possible, not the potential. The Islanders hung in limbo, with fans in Quebec City, Toronto, Seattle, and Kansas City practically salivating, waiting for the sword to fall.
Therefore, as someone mentioned (I'm sorry, I forgot who you are), it's almost fitting that after all this time and drama the Islanders saga ended quietly on a random Wednesday in October.
At this point, it still doesn't feel real, even though I officially put down my deposit for tickets last week. Rooting for the Islanders always came with a caveat - we didn't know where they would be in 2015, so even though I loved them, it was a very jealous and guarded love. I'm thrilled to be able to talk about the goaltending, the power play, and the development of Niederreiter, Strome, Reinhart, Ullstrom, Donovan, Mayfield, Nelson, Kabanov, et al instead of Kate Murray, Ed Mangano, Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statements, SEQRA, and land use. It feels like we're rooting for a normal hockey team, for the first time in my memory.
It's actually better than normal: the New York Islanders became an elite NHL franchise with this announcement. The decrepit arena is gone, and the financial playing field is beyond leveled; it's estimated this move will net the Islanders an extra $35 million per year. Players can live in the same parts of Manhattan as the Rags if they so choose, and you'd have to think the proximity to Brighton Beach would put the Islanders on every Russian player's list of preferred destinations (In fact, Alexei Yashin will only be 42 when this move happens....your move, Mark Gandler. Your move).
While there's jubilation in Brooklyn and among most people connected to the Islanders, there is hand-wringing and finger-pointing in Nassau County. The Lighthouse Project was a bold idea for an area that desperately needed some of those, but it failed due to myriad reasons that I'm saving for my book. However, in a nutshell:
- Tom Suozzi was distracted by his campaign for governor, used the project to bludgeon the TOH, and then frittered away the 09 election
- Nassau Republicans turned on Charles Wang and never seemed serious about making a deal
- The adult in the room, the lead attorney, died suddenly and unexpectedly
- Charles Wang got it in his head that the project was his legacy, so it's possible that he took criticisms too personally.
- Other developers wanted the space, and their head mouthpiece, Desmond Ryan of the Association for a Better
Association for a BetterLong Island, helped to gum up the works at every turn
We all wish it wasn't so, but the areener referendum may have been doomed from the start. Citizens didn't want their taxes to go up, even though a loss of the Islanders would also make their taxes go up, and those screaming for a "private solution" seem to have completely forgotten that one was on the table and they allowed a two-bit Town Supervisor to murder it. Now, after all the drama and nonsense, Nassau County is left with nothing but an obsolete arena that is soon to be without a tenant. An area that for too long has defined itself by what it is not now has a new talking point: "We are not the home of the New York Islanders."
Suburban decline continues, and the site that once promised so much hope for a new Long Island now stands as an all too painful reminder of the current Long Island. Young people like myself have abandoned the area in droves, and now the Islanders will do the same, taking millions of dollars out of the local economy in the process. Already-overtaxed citizens will have to bear the burden of making up that loss, as has always been the case, and the future of Nassau County is once again clouded. Those who acted like the Islanders had nowhere to go now have to face facts that they are gone, and nothing like them will likely ever grace Nassau County again. A region already searching for an identity just lost what was once a large piece of it.
As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the Islanders left sooner than 2015. I know Charles Wang and other principals were coy about this at the announcement, but given the huge revenue at stake, I wouldn't be surprised if the Islanders and Barclays Center people at least looked into the possibility of buying out the last season or 2 at Nassau Coliseum to start play in Brooklyn as soon as possible. This could be a win-win because it opens the Islanders up to the increased revenue streams more quickly, and the Barclays Center people will have 41 additional dates on the calendar for the building. I don't know if Nassau would go for it, but everyone has their price, and I wouldn't be surprised if the cost is far less than any of us may be thinking.
Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead will be left to pick up the pieces of the Islanders' departure and look back to figure out what could have been done, but moving forward this has some very interesting implications for the Islanders themselves.
First, no more excuses for Charles Wang and Garth Snow. The Islanders will no longer be a low-revenue team, and they will no longer be sheltered from intense media scrutiny. There are now no excuses for losing out on major free agents, running Hockey Ops with a skeleton staff, and not beefing up the scouting staff to help Trent Klatt and Ken Morrow. The Islanders are an elite franchise now, and they will also carry the expectations of one.
Garth Snow's plan looks like genius now, because the Islanders will arrive in Brooklyn with a solid young core, tons of payroll flexibility, and a prospect pipeline that is one of the best in the NHL. That's a fantastic start, but it means nothing if the team doesn't use its newfound resources and new culture to do something with it.
Second, they'll need to do something about the logo. I'm imagining a very simple tweak, though how's this for a possibility: extend the Long Island map to include all of Brooklyn and Queens in the logo (re-centering the "Islanders" word-mark at the bottom in the process), and adorning the uniforms with 2 patches - Brooklyn Bridge and Montauk Lighthouse - to encapsulate all of Long Island.
Finally, the Islanders should not forget where they came from. I love that they are already doing school assemblies in Brooklyn to introduce the team to local kids, but that doesn't mean the assemblies, youth clinics, and other very important charitable activities in Nassau and Suffolk should be lost. It would be a crying shame if this move also separated youth hockey players on Long Island from what was an amazing engine for its growth. The Islanders won 4 Stanley Cups on Long Island, and they can't forget that any more than those of us who are no longer living in the area can deny where we came from. Don't blame the local fan base for what politicians did.Bottom Line
As an Islanders fan, I could not be happier with this news. This means we can keep the team we love in the original area and finally be on an equal footing financially with the Rags and Leafs of the world. Part of me weeps for my childhood home in Nassau, but the rest of me thinks Charles Wang and all principals deserve a ton of credit for this. A new era of Islanders hockey, when we can be just a traditional NHL franchise without the Mickey Mouse stigma or the outdated arena, is just around the corner.
I'll make the trek from Manhattan to see more games at the old barn now that we know its days are numbered, and I will shed a tear or 2 when the time comes. However, I'll also buy a slice of Junior's cheesecake for anyone who finds me afterward at Barclays. No sleep til Brooklyn.....or Stanley.