Islanders fans are as nostalgic as anyone, which is great. They love the alumni, the stories and especially those four banners. On one old score, though, they have had enough. They are sick and tired of wondering where the franchise goes from here.
The unsettled question of the team’s home rink is like a backache that never goes away. They are heading into yet another season with that chronic pain. This time, it feels more like a compound fracture, what with the fact that the issue might cost the Islanders their best player and whatever hope they had of finally having a decent future.
“Talking for most of the fans that I talk to, they want a little clarity on where the team is going to be. I don’t think they like the situation of not knowing,” Clark Gillies said recently, during a retreat that brought together former team captains and the current — and possibly “former” in the next year or so — captain John Tavares.
Given the Tavares situation on top of the Belmont Park situation and the Barclays Center situation, the Islanders have more at stake than any other team in the 2017-18 season, which begins this week. The real turn of the screw is that there is nothing they can do about it.
Their overall situation is at the mercy of New York State government, which will decide whether the Islanders get to build a home near the racetrack at Belmont. Good luck with that.
Good luck, too, in trying to decipher what officials were talking about at a recent NHL news conference when they said the Islanders have “a lot of options.” From this observer’s viewpoint, the team has only two choices: Get the go-ahead from Albany or trade Tavares before he can walk as a free agent. The latter might not be as disastrous as the Nets selling Dr. J, but it would be close.
By now, everyone realizes that Tavares dearly wants to stay—except if it means staying in Brooklyn. Who can blame him? Players hate the shoddy ice. Fans hate the commute. Barclays Center ownership hates the licensing agreement with the team. It would be good for all concerned if the Islanders were to leave as soon as possible.
They should plan to play a couple years at Nassau Coliseum, notwithstanding NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s edict that the old barn is not fit even to be a stopgap. It is high time the Islanders stopped treating every word from that guy as if it were carved in gold. He once made Barclays Center sound as if it were the eighth wonder of the world, then at the All-Star Game this past January, he acknowledged, “There are some issues about playing in Barclays.”
Ed Westfall, the original captain and longtime broadcaster, wishes he could interview the commissioner: “I’d love to say, ‘Why did you let (Charles Wang) move the team to Brooklyn and then within a year, sell it? What’s going on?’” Of Bettman, he added, “He goes on TV at the All-Star break and badmouths the arena, the ice, everything. But he was the guy responsible.
“The fans, they’ve been kicked all over the place. Nobody gave two hoots about them,” Westfall said during the captains retreat at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton. He supports the current owners and has encouraged them “to do what’s best for the team.”
Great point. Often overlooked in the Islanders’ arena saga is that Charles Wang let the roster go to seed while he focused on the Coliseum development. The project flopped, at least in part, because the team did not seem relevant. I have always thought that the best way to win support for a new building was to win games. If a referendum on a new Coliseum had been held during the 2015 playoffs, it would have passed in a landslide.
As it is, the Islanders are starting another season in limbo, where nobody has home ice advantage.