Sooner Or Later Loyalists Need To Accept Fact That Brooklyn Actually Wants The Team

By Daniel Friedman
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“We held a concert out in Brooklyn, to watch the Island bridges blow.”

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Those of you who are familiar with Billy Joel will probably recognize this line from “Miami 2017.”

Now, granted the “Island” in reference is Manhattan, not Long Island, and that Joel’s most recent concert was held at Nassau Coliseum. But take the line out of its original context, and it really exemplifies what this whole process has been like for Islanders fans.

I haven’t quite gotten over the fact that the old barn is closing its doors and that the Isles aren’t playing there anymore.

Every time you think you’re ready to move on, there’s always some reminder or development that brings you right back down to earth, be it the official end date of the arena lease, the banners coming down, the ice being melted and shipped in vials (one of which now sits on my office desk) or the Joel final concert.

Looking out from the Barclays Center press box during the rookie scrimmage in July just felt … different. You knew you’d be going there often from that point forward, but it was an uncomfortable thought.

It’s hard to leave a home behind, even if it was more of a second home. It wasn’t some run-down summerhouse you bought in the Catskills that needed more maintenance than you signed up for; it was a place you cherished, somewhere you couldn’t wait to return to whenever you left.

People grieve in different ways. Some can keep it all inside. Some wear their emotions on their sleeve. Some people move on relatively quickly. Some take more time than others, and some will never get over it.

As nonsensical as it sounds, I think I’ve exhibited each of those traits at different points, and I don’t think I’m alone in that regard.

On the one hand, we move on because the team has, and because we’re comforted by the fact it is not moving to Kansas City. On the other hand, the sting never quite goes away.

On one hand, we calmly express our displeasure with the situation and say “it’s unfortunate, what can you do?” every time (and there have been plenty) we’re asked about how it feels to see the Islanders go. On the other, we break out “Let’s Go Islanders” chants at Billy Joel concerts, and continue to lash out at our elected officials on Twitter and in other forums.

It’s almost as if we’re programmed to respond this way, and seeing it on the video that my pal Joe Buono was kind enough to post brought tears to my eyes.

Afterwards, I asked myself the following question: What is it about this moment that makes me cry? It’s not as if there haven’t been a number of depressing reminders that what once was is no Ionger, so why now?

Not since my last time covering a game at the old barn had I cried, but something about this moment, something about hearing the despair and sadness within those “Let’s Go Islanders” chants really got to me.

Will they ever be back? I’d like to think so, but the truth is, we really have no idea.

Anyone who tells you they know with absolute certainty that the Islanders will never again call Long Island home frankly doesn’t.

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Likewise, anyone who tells you they know with absolute certainty that Barclays Center won’t work out is just making an estimated guess, and if someone claims to know that it definitely will work out, that person clearly hasn’t been watching this franchise closely enough for the past 20 years.

What does that mean for the Isles? Right now, not much.

However, should things go sour in Brooklyn, or should the opportunity present itself to move back, maybe there’s a way to make it happen – provided that the arena can support an NHL team, which is not a given right now.

Whether the Islanders have a high probability of returning or not is irrelevant at this point, because there’s no reason to disregard the improbable in this situation.

Why not be prepared in case this scenario presents itself? Why not put at least 15,000 seats in the building? I think this is a no-brainer, and I know there are a number of people out there who agree.

Another option could be to renovate the Coliseum with built-in flexibility to add 2,000 more seats, should the Isles elect to come back or express serious interest.

Still, that would be inadvisable, because you might have to deal with more Nassau red tape if you want to renovate again, and it’s just a tougher sell to the league and ownership if the necessary amenities aren’t already in place.

If Nassau County gets its act together, perhaps shovels will actually go into the ground and the renovated Coliseum will be completed. And remember, the issue with the Coliseum was that it was outdated; a building with all of the modern revenue streams will make money and sell tickets if the team plays well.

Barclays Center has its own questions to answer, too.

How will the significant amount of obstructed seats affect ticket sales, and will that issue ever be addressed? Why aren’t all of the team’s banners coming? Why is there no rush to fix the off-center scoreboard, which would probably be the building’s easiest irregularity to resolve?

My theory, which is based entirely on my own conjecture and some common sense, is that both the Islanders and Barclays Center are entering a trial phase. They’ll go full throttle on this “Bound for Brooklyn” campaign and see how it goes. They’ll determine if the building requires structural changes to work even better than it already is, or if the relationship is failing beyond repair.

If the Islanders thrive in Brooklyn, I think they’ll be there for the entirety of the lease and, yes, I think that Barclays will undergo renovations to accommodate both hockey and basketball. If it’s not working out, I think Long Island re-enters the discussion, and it wouldn’t at all shock me if there was an opt-out clause in the Barclays lease.

Why are they constructing such gorgeous locker rooms and facilities for the Islanders if it’s a trial run? Because they can always use those for opposing teams or knock them down for other purposes. It would probably be cheaper than renovating the entire arena for hockey and paying the Islanders their annual guaranteed income.

All future speculation aside, the reality is that the move to Brooklyn has officially happened. No matter how hard Brett Yormark and Co. try to roll out the welcome carpet, Barclays Center will take a while to truly feel like home. It may never truly feel like home.

Perhaps, somewhere down the line, all of my questions will be answered and everything will work out one way or another.

For now, I’ll end with another song quote from Billy Joel: “Life is a series of hello and goodbyes, I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye.”

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Follow Daniel Friedman on Twitter at @DFriedmanOnNYI