It’s funny. When the Islanders play actual hockey (and sometimes, the hockey is actually good), no one wants to see them. Attendance issues are a huge part of the reason that Barclays Center’s projections say the arena can make more money without the team than with them as a tenant. In fact, in the final season at the historic Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders climbed all the way up to No. 25 in the NHL in average home attendance, packing in a shade under 95% capacity even with nostalgia pouring out of the concrete like dirty dishwater out of an old sponge.
And yet, whenever a whiff of arena issues pop up, suddenly, the Islanders become the most sought-after and valuable franchise in all of American sport. Boroughs, cities and towns start tripping over themselves, offering the team any building, open parking lot or semi-frozen pond they want, so long as they relocate there immediately if not sooner. More people have vociferously gone to bat for the Islanders in the last week than they did in the four years that Charles Wang’s Lighthouse Project sat collecting dust on former Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray’s desk.
When that was happening, no one gave two shits. Now, everybody wants a piece of the Islanders.
Enter Hartford, Connecticut, the insurance capital of the world, which has offered its XL Center to the Islanders as a temporary (or permanent, if you prefer) home. The 15,000-seat XL Center was once know as the Hartford Civic Center when it hosted the Whalers before their move to Raleigh in 1997.
Governor Dannel Malloy sent a letter to owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, urging them to bring their team to The Constitution State, which you can read below.
Connecticut’s WFSB Channel 3 also posted an article about it, and even among the cottage industry of lazy, ill-informed, worthless, fact-free or just plain stupid articles about this subject, it stands out as being one of the worst examples. Don’t worry, Channel 3. Maybe one day, you guys will figure out computers. Ask your grandkids.
The Islanders won’t need a new arena next season. They would in 2019 if Barclays triggers its end of the out clause. They might not need a new arena at all if the parties renegotiate how much the arena pays the team on a yearly basis, which is probably what the earlier report this week was all about anyway.
What Malloy and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin are doing here isn’t about hockey. It’s about an even older game called, “political football” in which politicians kick an issue back and forth in perpetuity because it makes them look like they’re doing something.
Islanders fans are well-versed in political football since their team has been used as a blue-and-orange pigskin since about 1991. The game has been going on for so long that the Nassau County leadership instrumental in jettisoning the team from the Coliseum in the first place is now trying to convince everyone that they just want the team to come home. It’s like Men In Black only instead of being invaded by aliens, it’s guys in cheap suits that are facing corruption charges.
For the politicians, there’s nothing to lose. If they win, they’re the conquering heroes. Vote for them next November. If they lose, hey, they tried. Vote for them next November.
Islanders fans, though: even when the team is winning, we lose.
Update: During the first intermission of Friday night’s 5-4 loss in Detroit, the Islanders issued a short statement. Via the Hartford Courant:
"The public letter that the Connecticut Governor's office released earlier today was the first we had heard of the news," Islanders spokesperson Kimber Auerbach said in an email. "We are thrilled to be playing this season in front of our passionate New York Islanders fan base at Barclays Center, with the goal of making the playoffs. We look forward to another great year of New York Islanders hockey at Barclays Center next season."
Last I checked with people I trust, the list of future #Isles homes was still: Barclays Center, Citi Field or Belmont Park. Hasn't changed.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) February 3, 2017