It must be the playoffs because the NHL took a front seat on WFAN today, as commissioner Gary Bettman was in studio for a long mano-a-mano interview with radio host, and Diet Coke and nap enthusiast Mike Francesa.
Right off the bat (because it’s always about New York), Francesa asked about the Islanders and their latest arena drama. Bettman was loose and conversational while hitting his usual talking points and adding precious little information for fans to latch on to. He was obviously very complimentary to owner Scott Malkin (with no mention of Jon Ledecky) and made clear that the team isn’t leaving New York.
As for where they are going to play... that’s much more complicated.
Gary Bettman: The best light I can tell is with Scott Malkin as the principle owner, Islanders fans have somebody who is committed emotionally, financially. He wants to do all the right things. He wants to win, he wants a good, strong organization. And, you know, he had a transition period from Charles Wang, he’s studying, he’s doing his homework, he’s doing it all right as it relates to what is either the tangential element of what you just asked me or the next question.
Okay, so where is all that homeworking going to lead? Out of Brooklyn?
GB: It’s all the possibilities. You know, Barclays wasn’t built for hockey. But the good news is, Barclays was there because the Islanders had to get out of the Nassau Coliseum. I had been on a tour of that building eight years ago and I don’t know how the ice system continued to function. I don’t even think they could get parts for it. So there was no question, they had to have someplace else to go.
That funny line about the Coliseum ice opens the door to Francesa bombarding Bettman with questions about the “new” building in Uniondale. Mike interrupts often, but an undaunted Bettman doesn’t sound all that enthused about the idea of the team moving back.
GB: And let’s start with the premise - that is accurate - that this is a franchise that’s committed to being here. So nobody should... [Mike interrupts]... they’re not leaving New York. And so they went to Barclays and I think based on the experience and the transfer of ownership, Scott is looking at his options. Which is what he should do.
MF: Is the new Nassau Coliseum a short term option?
GB: You know, I don’t know. I haven’t seen it, I haven’t been in it. I know I saw in the media today it’s being pushed, but it’s being pushed I think by the people that own Barclays who renovated it. But in the final analysis, I think, uh, that’s not the place that... it’s not a long term option.
MF: Could it be a short term option?
GB: I don’t know the answer to that.
So what about those spots in Willets Point, Queens and Belmont Park that are seemingly waiting for new arenas? The commish takes the glass-half-full approach, which can’t be easy for him given the wars he’s fought with the local two-bit government types for 20 years.
Well, the fact that they’re looking at building a hockey functioning building is a good thing. The fact that there are a lot of options in terms of where they can build it, as they’re considering the possibilities. I think that’s all good. And if I’m an Islander fan (Ed. Note: He was.) and I live in Nassau and Suffolk, I’ve got to be somewhere between excited and intrigued at the possibilities.
It’s here that Mike seems to push the question of the team potentially leaving New York. Nobody’s been really wondering that as far as I know, but in case you were, you can rest easy.
MF: This guy wants to stay here and he wants to find a permanent home.
MF: It’s fair to say they’ve come to the conclusion that Barclays is not their permanent home. Correct?
BG: You know what, I’m not prepared to say that. That would be something—
MF: [interrupting] They would be happy to stay there this year. We know there weren’t happy. Both sides weren’t happy.
BG: I think that’s probably true. What that ultimately means, I’m not sure anybody’s reached a definitive conclusion.
MF: There’s not a threat or any talk of them leaving the Metropolitan area?
BG: More than that, Scott Malkin didn’t buy the New York Islanders to move them someplace else. He is committed to this area.
MF: Is a new building feasible considering the issues that the Metropolitan areas face, Nassau County as an example? Or even in the city. Is it all have to be private funding or is there any way anybody can work something out that makes sense?
BG: I think that goes in the category of they’re looking at their options, they’re looking at what’s do-able. It may be that--
Finally, Mike wants to know what the commish is personally doing to help the local team that he only pays attention to three times a year.
MF: What role does the league play in this?
BG: We consult. This isn’t our first rodeo. But in the first and ultimately final analysis, the club’s gotta focus on what it wants to do. We try to help, we try to facilitate and we try to lend whatever knowledge we have, having lived through a number of these situations. And fortunately, in most cases, have helped work them out.
The Islanders stuff is right upfront so LHH readers can listen and get what they need pretty quickly. But the entire 45 minute sit-down is well worth it, with Bettman covering topics like the Olympics, BAM’s influence and the NHL’s tech outlook, and betting and getting booed in Las Vegas.
The last five minutes may be the most entertaining, with Bettman blowing Mike’s mind about the rise of hockey in China, the span of the NHL’s demographics and Auston Matthews learning to play hockey and not baseball while growing up in Arizona. It’s a fun conversation that will appeal to those familiar with the dulcet tones of two old New Yawkuhs tawkin spawts.