By B.D. Gallof, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — The song goes a little something like this:
“All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go; I’m standing here outside your door; I hate to wake you up to say goodbye”
— John Denver
More than a year ago an Islanders source warned me that the minority percentage of possible suitors outside of New York would rapidly climb. Eventually, that person said, this idea might even become an even bigger possibility.
I was told this right before the referendum attempt by Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Islanders owner Charles Wang blew into pieces due to a recession, politics and the county’s severe growth limitations.
So, now that we are at the end of what has been a long season for hapless fans who have watched their hapless team once again come up short of achieving any real goals, it is also time to really look at the team with correct lenses.
The Islanders may very well be packing their suitcases in a few years.
Now, if you sat down Wang, or the NHL Board of Governors, or former Lighthouse Project loyalists, they would tell you what has been clear for a while — that they have no clue where the Islanders will be beyond the end of the Nassau Coliseum lease in 2015. This very real fear is also starting to trickle down to the team’s staff.
That said, you can bet that once the lease ends, it will be the very last time they step foot inside Nassau Coliseum, if not the entire county.
The fact is the Islanders’ situation has reached crisis stage, and all the signals from Wang indicate even worse. He has been silent since Aug. 1 and before then when the Lighthouse Project went dark. He has had General Manager Garth Snow install a budget and tie up what was in previous summers an open wallet to pursue free agents.
But the unfortunate truth is, the Islanders are poised to function at the salary cap floor and tie in key pieces to a rebuild beyond 2014-15.
Thick public relations and fan cheerleading simply will not stick anymore.
Any conversation about a venue involving fans and media, no matter the PR goo or political tomfoolery, needs to deal with the fact that there is the strongest likelihood come the end of the 2014-15 season that the Islanders would entertain all suitors for a chance to make their best business decision. The likelihood that a suitor would be outside New York is now higher than ever before.
Let me repeat that: the chances they remain in the area are now less than before.
Places with venue options, a built-in audience and interest to allow a team that might be a contender during the end of a rebuild are planning to strike at just around that time, the end of the current lease. These places are where Wang could move, collect the boon of attaining a higher value than just a small market team over several years, and then have far more long-term options.
New York, it seems, just won’t be able to compete.
Islanders fans need to begin recognizing that an end game is starting to be put in place and that municipalities like Quebec, Seattle and perhaps other emerging options elsewhere are beginning to be more the likely options IF this owner gets his way while standing pat.
Those cities will come to him.
From people I’ve spoken to, Quebec is considered the most likely suitor. I have been told for well over a year not to discount Quebec, but that has only turned into a shrill siren while local options have dissipated like an Islanders post-trade deadline playoff push. Quebec, and others, have the means, the venue and perhaps the most to offer to overpay and entice Wang to sell or even move the team and remain as owner.
Seattle, with its current venue plans, has also become a serious option. According to media sources in Seattle, the city is currently more focused on the Phoenix Coyotes’ situation, but that can change depending on the NHL’s stubbornness to make the game work in that market.
This might fly in the face of those in the league who have stated they want the Islanders to remain right where they are.
However, as one source told me recently, it’s doubtful the NHL will be as much of an obstacle as it has indicated it will be.
“Leaving Long Island is a five-minute story. Coming to a place like Canada is far bigger. And remember, this is the league that shut down a season. What do they really care about Islanders fans?” the source said.
It’s true, the NHL is in the business of making those team businesses that have a good rapport with their communities thrive, not be a stumbling block for an area that has fumbled a venue miserably with all sorts of levels of political chicanery and hackery.
I have been told that even the Islanders believe that Nassau is a dead end, despite the show that was put on by members of the county Legislature. They might still go through the motions on the off chance of a miracle, but most with a discerning eye can see that they are playing this out much like the team’s own playoff push.
As I mentioned, according to a Nassau County Executive administration source, the Islanders had not contacted that office until the Newsday story ran about the Mangano meeting with potential developers. That source also cited that the Isles are likely done in Nassau.
In other words, barring a miracle, Nassau is done as an Islanders option come 2015. That wreckage and loss, when the Isles cease to be a county taxpayer, will be left piled on many a politician’s feet that no amount of partisan rhetoric will be able to quell. In fact, despite that lark of a referendum, there were severe questions asked of the public vote and the viability of Nassau County to offer anything even before it was held.
So let us now address the slim local options that are left for these Islanders.
Brooklyn remains a “wild card” according to a source. However, as we all saw at a recent game where Bruce Ratner showed up to plug next October’s preseason game at the Barclays Center, it is all just a pony show. Ratner had nothing substantial to say except he wants the Islanders to remain in the area.
As said in this column previously, for Brooklyn to be an option for Wang, it must include a combination or at least one option of profit assurance as well as development options. Furthermore, according to an NHL source, the borough must do something about the limited hockey seating option, which really shoots the Barclays Center in the foot because, just in terms of audience potential, there is a ceiling.
Brooklyn does, however, remain a short-term option if any areas outside of New York or even a miracle in the form of a Nassau Hail Mary are lofted in at the last minute.
Suffolk County is considered a dark horse for the Isles. It is in debt up to its eyes and in need of a fiscal jump. It has none of the limitations or looming oversight that Nassau has. However, not a word has come from Suffolk, not even a well-crafted rumor.
Queens ceased being a player once the Islanders showed no interest in placing an RFP (request for proposal) last September. However, with the Mets’ owners having settled the Madoff Ponzi lawsuit just Tuesday, it might open that door merely as a potential option due to an ongoing relationship with Wang.
Another as of yet undetermined factor is Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been busy fiddling about with casinos to get his state out of the massive hole it has dug for itself. However, his administration stated that he was looking closely at last summer’s referendum vote. Odds are, the results were a non-starter for the Islanders up in Albany.
So despite these options, Islanders fans need to start understanding that they are now just a pawn to an end-game of something spinning wildly out of control. The danger of the Islanders leaving New York is very real. The only option for fans is placing significant pressure on the Islanders and their owner.
The Isles need to make a definitive statement, if not promise, of commitment to fans that is more than just spin, public relations, or an attempt to sell season tickets before leaving town.
Read more columns by B.D. Gallof
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