National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman downplayed the idea of the Islanders returning to Long Island Friday, because, in his view, Nassau County's track record of trying to upgrade Nassau Coliseum is "terrible."
"Based on what I've seen and what Charles Wang's efforts have been for the last decade, I'm not sure it's fair to give the fans -- even the people who live in Nassau County -- any hope that something's coming next," Bettman said. "Lots of possibilities have been thrown out about an arena for the last decade, and none of them have materialized."
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His comments, made during a conference with Associated Press Sports Editors, were in response to Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano's remarks last month expressing hope that the county could lure the team back after the Coliseum is refurbished. Developer Bruce Ratner is targeting August for breaking ground on a $260 million renovation of the Coliseum and the surrounding property.
The Islanders could be playing their final game at the Coliseum on Saturday. They face elimination against the Capitals, who lead their best-of-seven playoff series, three games to two, and begin play in Brooklyn's Barclays Center next season.
Though Bettman, who is a graduate of Half Hollow Hills High School in Dix Hills, didn't specifically rule out a return to Long Island, he said he's been through too many false starts with the Coliseum.
"I'm not going to engage with Nassau politicians on any of that," Bettman said. "They've had their time to do what has to be done. If something else materializes, we can all deal with it at the time. But I'm not focused on anything going on because the track record is terrible."
In a statement yesterday, Mangano said: "I believe that if Mr. Bettman likes the Barclays Center, he will similarly like the renovated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. I look forward to future conversations. Now the job at hand is to build the new Coliseum rather than debate the past."
Mangano said last month during his State of the County address, "this world-class destination will get the attention of the NHL." Part of Ratner's winning bid to renovate the Coliseum included a promise that the Islanders would return to play two exhibition games and four regular-season games there each season. Mangano reiterated that promise during an interview with WPIX yesterday morning and added: "We hope to expand that in the future."
Nassau officials note that the six-game package of Islanders games is stipulated in Ratner's contract with the county. If the Islanders cannot play the six games, he would owe the county an additional $1 million each year in rent, according to the lease.
But Bettman said yesterday that the Islanders have yet to ask the league for approval on that plan -- and that it's too early for the league to approve it because there's no newly renovated Nassau Coliseum in place yet.
And Bettman doesn't think that's going to happen, anyway.
"I have no expectation based on anything that is realistic and in place that that will ever happen," he said of the renovation.
"The only thing we know for sure is that there is an arena in Brooklyn where the Islanders are going to," Bettman said.
Reached yesterday, Ratner wouldn't comment on Bettman's remarks.With Robert Brodsky