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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Islanders' top offseason priority: Get shovel in ground for new LI home

The Islanders are Long Island's team, and they need assurance of a home here, even more than they need a 30-goal scorer.

Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello speaks with the

Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello speaks with the media at Northwell Health Ice Center on Monday. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Lou Lamoriello will scour every corner for forwards. He will try for free agents. He will attempt trades. He will take a good, close look at his own franchise’s system. All of it to find the scoring help that was so obviously missing in the playoff loss to the Hurricanes.

Offense is a huge need, way up there as No. 2 on their list.

What they need most of all, though, is a shovel in the ground and a certificate that says a permanent Long Island home is on the way. Everything revolves around a new arena, and nothing comes close to being as important.

The general manager, crafty and savvy as he is, can chase top talent all day and night. But chances are, he won’t persuade elite free agents to come (or convince all of his current players to stay) unless he can guarantee that they won’t be shuttling back and forth to Barclays Center for who knows how long.

“We're in a unique situation where we have a new building coming, and it can't get here fast enough,” Lamoriello said Monday at Northwell Health Ice Center, as this year’s team gathered one more time for meetings and to say goodbye.

Lamoriello has been around New York long enough to know that projects can get delayed and sometimes they never get done. The good news is that he is completely confident that the Belmont Park facility is a go.

“I have inside knowledge, as much as you can possibly have . . . I don’t have any question,” he said. “I would not have come here if there was not going to be a new arena.”

You can say the same for sharpshooters such as Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene. Those potential unrestricted free agents are going to have plenty of choices. As nice as it would seem to join a team with great chemistry and coaching, a squad coming off a 103-point season, they are not going to pass up comparable offers to sign with a team that doesn't have a stable home.

To paraphrase Neil Diamond, who grew up in the borough that houses Barclays Center, “Brooklyn’s home, but it ain’t mine no more.”

No way do the Islanders lose both home playoff games to the Hurricanes if those were played at Nassau Coliseum. Islanders players can’t say that because it sounds like an excuse. But former teammate Calvin de Haan of Carolina was honest enough to say his team was lucky to have avoided Uniondale. Chances are, they would have spent Monday morning practicing for Game 6.

Lamoriello understands that fans would prefer to stay at the Coliseum forever. He explained that modern major sports franchises need the revenue streams from luxury suites and other amenities. He said there are reasons that Boston Garden, Maple Leaf Gardens and the Montreal Forum are all gone. Of the Bruins, Maple Leafs and Canadiens, he said, “They’d love to have that nostalgia and have that atmosphere back, but that’s the world we live in. We need a building.”

Defenseman Ryan Pulock said, “I think we’ve all been looking forward to that. They’ve been talking to us about that for a few years. We, as players, have all the faith in them that it’s going to happen. You look back on the year, coming back and playing at the Coliseum and the way the fans took that and ran with it, I think it would be exceptional to have our own state-of-the-art building here on Long Island.”

Someone who has been closely involved in New York-area politics and commerce for decades told me in no uncertain terms last week that the Belmont project will happen. Good enough. But if not, let’s revisit the rink in Ronkonkoma.

The Islanders are Long Island’s team, and they need assurance of a home here, even more than they need a 30-goal scorer. It can’t get here fast enough.

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