We are just three home games into the 2016-17 NHL season, but it’s already abundantly clear the ice at Barclays Center is still a problem.
It’s nothing new for new major arenas to have growing pains as they try to get their ice right. The 19,000 — or in ahem, rare cases, 16,000 — seat multi-use venues deal with a lot of events, and making NHL-level ice is frankly harder than laying out a basketball court or a stage.
Worse, then, for a major sports venue that was incomprehensibly built for basketball but not hockey.
Worse, still, for a building that already suffers from other growing pains in the fan experience as it tries to coax a long-established (and long abused) fanbase to love the new home for their hockey team.
Friday night was just the Islanders’ second win in five games this season, but the weather outside helped make persistent bad ice one of the storylines afterward.
Jack Capuano referenced it in post-game comments, with “the bad ice out there.”
Cal Clutterbuck mentioned it in the context of slowing the Coyotes’ young forwards. Via the Post:
“In a rink like this where the ice is just awful, that helps,” Clutterbuck said.
Then, in a very matter-of-fact way, Clutterbuck called it “the worst ice I’ve ever seen in my nine years[in the league].”
Newsday had more, from coach Jack Capuano and several players providing their best diplomatic responses about “both teams have to play on it,” etc. Capuano had a lot to say, including:
“I get it was a humid day, the weather’s tough, but I can reiterate what the players said that it’s got to get better. It wasn’t good.’’
During last season’s playoffs, Barclays Center management — after pleas to do something — brought in dedicated dehumidifiers and added ice management staff. It’s been published in multiple outlets that part of the problem is that PVC instead of steel piping under the ice surface makes it much harder for the place to maintain NHL standards and temperature.
And of course, the issue spurs periodic talk about how it will deter free agents (though Andrew Ladd and others had no trouble signing with the Isles this summer), and gleeful talk about forcing the Isles to use their conspiracy-fueling opt-out and somehow build elsewhere, continuing a seemingly endless search for a perfect home after decades of neglect in Nassau Coliseum.
There are lots of external media or fan-created questions for the Isles that have little effect on the players. The commute, the limited view seating sections, and the like.
But the playing surface is another matter. For a franchise that doesn’t need another headache off the ice, this one hits where it really hurts. And but for the temporary grace of the winter months, it apparently isn’t going away.
The players quotes after Friday’s game juxtaposed by Newsday with a Brett Yormark quote from earlier in the week exacerbate the feeling of disconnect: “I think we’re getting really good marks from the players.’’
But Barclays says the ice is their “highest priority” and they continue to work with the NHL on it. You’d think the two interested parties could work out a solution, though the pipe issue apparently would require closing the building in the offseason for renovations.
Such discussion of renovations has been a non-starter for the arena owners when discussing fixing the limited view seating -- which would require massive renovation, according to sources — so who knows if this issue would be different, even if it became part of the negotiations to make this a true long-term partnership.
All of which remains to be seen; at least we’re barely into year two of the arrangement. But it’s been an awkward marriage from the start, and in the fine tradition of our country’s most famous real estate developers, the two men who arranged it are no longer on the scene.
[Dan here. In addition to Dom’s elegant exploration of the subject, we have a mostly pragmatic take from Larry Brooks, of all people, who writes that everyone involved is trying very hard to make the accommodations work but that real life (and real money) might just stand in their way.]
They have brought in dehumidifiers. They have hired a full-time specialist. But the ice-making system is inadequate, and the only way the flaw can be corrected is by replacing the current plastic pipes with steel ones that not only would cost a pretty penny but would require Barclays be closed for the summer.
The landlord isn’t going to that expense or to that trouble for a tenant that owns an escape clause after three years. Escape clause aside, the building’s owners never have been unclear about their lack of interest in modifying the structure to make it more hockey-friendly. Of course, the Islanders need a place to which to escape before they can go. You didn’t see Andy Dufresne busting out of Shawshank without a plan, did you?