National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman said Islanders owner Charles Wang has not decided whether he will sell the team, but Bettman said interest in buying the team is high.
"There's lots of interest being expressed," Bettman said Thursday. "He's listening. But he hasn't made a firm decision to sell."
Bettman, speaking at The Associated Press Sports Editors commissioners meetings in Manhattan, said Philadelphia-based hedge fund manager Andrew Barroway has "expressed interest" in buying the Islanders. Bettman would not discuss Barroway's level of involvement or any other potential suitors. Barroway was in talks to buy the New Jersey Devils in 2013, but decided against it. Barroway did not respond to an email seeking comment.
The Islanders, reached Thursday, referred to Wang's statement from March 28, which read, "In recent months, there have been numerous expressions of interest in the purchase of the New York Islanders. As I have consistently stated, I have been and remain willing to listen. However, potential buyers expressions of interest in the team or even my listening to them does not mean that any deal will be reached."
Forbes valued the Islanders franchise at $195 million in November. Bettman said the Islanders' financial situation will improve when the team moves to Brooklyn for the start of the 2015-16 season.
"The economics will change for the club," Bettman said. "He's got one of the most onerous leases in the worst building in the league," referring to Nassau Coliseum. "And that has a dramatic, negative economic impact. So, by moving to Barclays, the team will be in a far different economic position."
Bettman disagreed with some reports suggesting the Islanders' 25-year lease with Barclays is not conducive to Wang or another owner putting a successful team on the ice. "It's not an impediment; it is what it is," he said. "Every team has a lease. When you buy a team, Islanders or any team, it's subject to the contractual commitments you have. . . . I don't view it as an impediment because, among other things, a team needs a place to play. Nassau Coliseum is past its expiration date. I think anybody would agree, and Barclays is a terrific new arena. So, if you want to own the Islanders, I think Barclays is a great opportunity for you."
Bettman suggested the team could have remained on Long Island if not for political wrangling. "Why after 10 years and tens of millions of dollars, couldn't they have figured out how to get a new building on the Island?" Bettman said. "In the absence of public financing, you needed an economically viable model to pay for it. And it's not uncommon for these communities to step up and help build these buildings. Apparently Nassau and the Town of Hempstead weren't in a position to do that."
In August 2011, voters rejected a $400 million plan to build a new arena with public money.
Informed of Bettman's remarks, Nassau spokesman Brian Nevin said, "Mr. Bettman's comments are puzzling, as the people of Nassau County voted against public funding for a new arena. Fortunately, the Islanders will continue to play several games at the new privately funded Coliseum."
With Robert Brodsky
and Arthur Staple