Islanders 'not for sale,' Wang insists
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Owner Charles Wang slapped a "not for sale" sign on his Islanders Thursday night, asserting his commitment to both the area and the team, even as it struggles badly on and off the ice.
But what if the Lighthouse Project that Wang has championed as part of a renovation of Nassau Coliseum never comes to fruition?
"If it doesn't work out on Long Island [at the current site], I'd like to be close enough so I can commute to the game and go to all the home games as best I can," he said. "If it's Queens, great. If it's Suffolk, great. Obviously we want to be in this area because it's our home."
So, Wang is not looking to sell the team? "No," he said. "It's not for sale."
That last question was asked by National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, who conducted the interview of Wang and Islanders general manager Garth Snow in a studio at the NHL Store in Manhattan.
The Islanders executives also took calls from fans, most of whom had pointed questions about both the franchise's future and the team's current last-place standing.
One caller wondered whether Wang's priority is developing the area around the Coliseum and that absent that, he will lose interest in owning the franchise after 10 years.
"Maybe I'm the stupidest guy in the world, but my commitment is very clear," he said.
"We are playing in the Coliseum right now until 2015, which is when our lease is up. We are exploring every opportunity to stay there."
Asked if he considers himself a real estate developer, he said, "No. I'm a lousy one if I am."
Wang said the Lighthouse idea came about only after he had bought the team, as he sought creative solutions to fund improvements to the aging arena.
The owner said he continues to lose millions of dollars each season on the Islanders.
"We spent about $180 million to buy the team," he said. "It's cost me over $200-some-million to run the team," he said.
But he insisted he is willing to stay the course, believing Long Island needs a pro team and destination attractions, in part because "we should be known for more than being 30 minutes from Manhattan."
Wang told a caller who expressed concern over ticket prices that the Islanders still have levels "for anyone who wants to see hockey games" and that overall the team charges less than the league average.
Snow said the Islanders are determined not to give up young players and prospects for a "quick fix" on the ice, and added that injuries have taken a toll.
Still, Wang said of the team's performance, "We are probably as disappointed if not more disappointed, I would say more disappointed, than all of the fans."