Fans of the New York Islanders have spent the better part of two decades wondering about their team, from who would own it to where it would play to whether it would win again.
At times, the uncertainty is overwhelming for fans who have remained loyal and hopeful through very lean times. They’ve lived on that loyalty and hope, and the occasional playoff game win to get them through some dark days. Still, it seems, they’ve always been on the losing end, their hopes constantly passed from one end of the ice to the other, never rewarded with any real stability.
It’s time to give the fans some real answers, some certainty, and, yes, a truly permanent home. Unfortunately, all of that still might be years away.
Four years ago, fans thought they knew where their future would be. Brooklyn, they were told. It wouldn’t be ideal, but it would be a way to keep the Islanders close by. Then-owner Charles Wang spoke of an “ironclad” agreement that would keep the team at the Barclays Center for 25 years.
Only, it turns out, it wasn’t so ironclad after all. The agreement to play at Barclays, gives the Islanders a guaranteed home for only four years — not 25. After the second season, which opens next month, the Islanders and Barclays can renegotiate. If that doesn’t work, either the team or the arena can abandon the deal. The team could leave Brooklyn as soon as the end of its third season in the spring of 2018.
The deal’s opt-out clause is significant because the road at Barclays has been bumpy. There’ve been concerns from players and fans about everything, including the team’s colors, the commute, the quality of the ice and the views from the seats. The difficulties have led some to hope the team would head back to Nassau Coliseum.
Don’t count on it. While the Coliseum will look different in 2017, the change won’t be enough for the Isles to return, as it’ll still lack the amenities a major league team needs.
So, then, where?
It’s a familiar question. Fans are left with a sense of déjà vu as talk again turns to the locations discussed years ago — from Kansas City to Quebec.
To get the team a new home in New York, there are roadblocks to clear and hurdles to jump.
If the answer is Queens, then New York City has to cut through the red tape, resolve legal battles, and pave the way for the Islanders to build an arena at Willets Point. Despite grumbling to the contrary, it’s a parking lot, not a park — and an arena could be successful there, if court battles and city bureaucracy don’t get in the way.
If the answer is to build at the state-owned Belmont Park, then the puck is in New York State’s end of the ice. It must resolve or throw out the request for proposals to develop the site, and open the door to the possibility of the Islanders’ return to Nassau County, which could be a win for fans and the surrounding community alike.
And if the answer is to stay at Barclays, then that choice has to come with significant changes to the arena and the deal to make Brooklyn the Islanders’ true home.
The biggest roadblock now is the agreement itself. Its requirement for “good faith discussions” next year means there’s little the team can do now to prepare for the future.
So, fans wait — again. Deadlines have come and gone as fans tried to determine where the Islanders would go. The next “certainty date,” as Wang once called it, is Jan. 30, 2018. That’s the date by which either the team or the arena can act on the opt-out clause.
In the meantime, others, from NYC, the state, and the Island, can work to overcome the challenges at Belmont, Willets, or elsewhere, to give the Islanders options for a hockey-friendly, fan-friendly home. That way, if and when the team decides to make a move, it can.
The team — and its fans — have waited long enough.
Randi F. Marshall is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.