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SportsColumnistsJim Baumbach

Wang, Islanders move into state of confusion

Patrick Dowd of Bay Shore listens to Islanders

Patrick Dowd of Bay Shore listens to Islanders owner Charles Wang speak on the Lighthouse project Tuesday. (Sept. 22, 2009) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

There won't be a "For Sale'' sign in front of the Islanders' offices this morning, but if someone wants to buy the team, Charles Wang is going to listen.

Wang didn't seem to enjoy admitting that, but it appears he has no choice. He had set yesterday - the team's season opener - as his deadline for certainty on the Lighthouse project, and the Town of Hempstead let it pass. That was Town Supervisor Kate Murray's way of essentially calling Wang's bluff. So Wang had to act.

That's why the Islanders' owner began his 10-minute news conference last evening by saying, "I've always said I wanted yes or no by this day, and if not, we're going to explore all our options. And that's what we're going to do."

Wang did not give specifics about exploring his options, but he said for the first time he can envision an Islanders future that does not include home games in Nassau County.

As for whether he'd sell the team, I asked Wang what he would do if someone magically appeared at his doorstep Monday morning and offered a sum of money for the Islanders. "Obviously, anything is open," he said. "We'll look at all our options."

And then he joked, "I am learning Russian."

That's obviously a reference to Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov, who recently purchased a majority ownership of the New Jersey Nets. Might lightning strike twice and someone save Wang from the $23 million he loses annually on his hockey team? Not very likely.

Wang's way out of this financial sinkhole that is the Islanders is the Lighthouse project, his $3.8-billion real estate venture that replaces the Nassau Coliseum and surrounding area.

But now, for the first time, Wang no longer is going on record as saying he thinks the Lighthouse will happen.

As annoyed and irritated as he has been with Murray and the Town of Hempstead during the past two years, he used to always say, "I'm an optimist."

When Wang was asked directly if he thinks the Lighthouse will happen, he said, "I don't know."

And that's telling.

Wang repeatedly said he is sick of Murray's "game-playing," the latest example being her late-afternoon phone call Friday in which she finally offered to meet with him. He insisted he asked her not to go public with the meeting, but then he read her quotes in a story in yesterday's edition of Newsday.

Murray, through a spokesman, said the conversation with Wang was not off the record, as he said it was. But whatever the truth, it inevitably goes down as another in a long line of missteps between these two.

What's going to be interesting now is how Wang handles these next few days and weeks of uncertainty. He said there's enough time in the day to focus on outside interest in the Islanders and the ongoing developments of the Lighthouse, declining to prioritize one over the other.

But what interest will there be? It's telling that only one guy wants to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and that the NHL is trying to block him from doing so.

So let's say someone materializes who does want to buy the Islanders. If he's been watching what Wang's been going through and still wants in, well, what in the name of John Spano would this wannabe Islanders owner be thinking?

And as for a potential move, there's still that lease that says the Islanders must play all home games at Nassau Coliseum until 2015.

But for all the legitimate reasons to believe the Islanders still will be around for at least a few years, you still can't be totally sure.

Why? Because starting Sunday, the franchise is officially in an uncertain state.

The owner said so.

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