Here’s a known: The Islanders will, at least in part, be playing under the familiar, yet old-school roof of the Nassau Coliseum next season. Whether or not their captain and franchise player John Tavares will be with them when they remake Uniondale their temporary stomping ground, is a lesser known. Tavares is in the final year of his contract and opted against signing an extension last summer.
But according to former Islanders great and Hall of Famer Clark Gillies, whether or not Tavares will remain in Islanders blue and orange next season has nothing to do with anything green.
“I don’t think money is going to be an issue,” Gillies, 63, told Newsday before the evening session of the New York Open tennis event at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum Tuesday night. “It’s going to be whether John really wants to be here. We’ll find out.”
Gillies heaped praise upon Islanders owner Jon Ledecky, who said in December that he would like Tavares to be “an Islander for life.”
“I know Jon [Ledecky] very well,” Gillies said. “He’s been great. He’s a go-getter. He’s a big promoter. He wants this team to do well. He’s very excited about being the owner of the New York Islanders. He’s excited about bringing a winning team [here]. He’s going to do what he can.”
So far, Ledecky has helped engineer a deal that will bring the Islanders back to Nassau Coliseum for 60 games over the next three seasons, before moving into a state-of-the-art arena at Belmont Park.
“I think it’s going to be nice,” Gillies said of the Belmont Park arena. “It’s still another 15-20 minutes away from [Nassau Coliseum], but it’s going to be a beautiful building. It’s going to be state of the art and going to have all the best bells and whistles of all the best arenas in the league. They’re going to do it right and it’s going to be exciting to get in that building.”
But, before that building is finished, it’ll be Nassau Coliseum again, the place where Gillies’ jersey used to hang in the rafters and a place that still echoes will the memories of a dynasty gone by.
“We’re very excited about that,” Gillies said of the temporary reunion. “Even though it’s only 12 games [next season], it’ll be a great opportunity to get them back in the building.”
As a Huntington resident, Gillies said he empathized with Islander fans who found it too much of a hassle to go to more than a few games per year in Brooklyn.
“It’s difficult for families to take their kids,” Gillies said. “You get home too late at night. People at work used to be able to work until 5 o’clock or 6 o’clock and still get to the Coliseum for a 7 o’clock game. Now, you have to leave at 5 o’clock to get to the Barclays Center. A lot of people are taking off work early and getting home too late.”
“I go and take the train and am home in an hour or so, so it’s not so bad for me,” Gillies, who estimated that he goes to 15 games per season, added. “But I don’t take my wife or kids with me. It’s been a big deterrent for people to go there and it’s the biggest reason they don’t draw too many people.”