By Peter Schwartz
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When the Islanders announced their move to Brooklyn on Oct. 24, 2012, I felt in my heart of hearts that it wasn’t going to be permanent.READ MORE: Blackwood Blanks Reeling Flyers As Devils End 4-Game Skid
Despite former owner Charles Wang calling the team’s new lease at Barclays Center “ironclad,” it was my feeling that someday the Isles would come home to the geographical area that is featured on their logo.
Specifically, I thought they would return to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Fast forward to Aug. 15, 2013, when Forest City Ratner, the company that built Barclays Center, was awarded the rights to renovate the Coliseum. Part of the plan included having the Islanders play four regular season and two preseason games at their former home each season. My first thought was that something was fishy in Uniondale. If you’re going to have the Isles play six games there, you might as well bring them back full-time.
Throughout the emotional final season at Nassau Coliseum and exciting-but-controversial first season in Brooklyn, I still maintained that there would be a day when the Islanders would come back — and I always felt it would be to the new Coliseum. Given the quirks that come with playing hockey at Barclays Center — like obstructed-view seats and the scoreboard that hangs over the blue line — I figured the Islanders and Brooklyn would not be a long-term marriage.
Then came recent reports suggesting that the Islanders, with new owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, had discussions with the Mets about building a new arena next to Citi Field and with New York State about a new facility next to Belmont Park.
Still, I never wavered from my thought that each example was nothing more than posturing to get necessary improvements done to Barclays Center in advance of an eventual return to the Coliseum.
That was until Wednesday, when it became apparent to me that the barn doors just might be closed forever.
I took my kids to the team store at the Northwell Heath Ice Center, the Islanders’ new practice facility at Eisenhower Park on Long Island. It’s a magnificent venue that is literally a John Tavares slap shot away from the Nassau Coliseum. There’s still some work being done to get it ready for training camp as team offices and locker rooms are currently under construction.
As we were walking around the facility, I ran into a high-level Islanders source who asked me what I thought of the Ice Center.
“Isn’t this place beautiful?” the person asked.
I said it sure is and it would be even better if the Islanders returned home across the street one day.
“Don’t count on it,” the source said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”READ MORE: Duarte, Turner Lead Pacers Over Knicks
My next question was, okay, what about a return to Nassau County?
“Now, that’s very possible,” was the source’s answer.
With those words, it finally hit me that the chances of the Islanders returning to a renovated Nassau Coliseum were slim and none and slim had just slipped out the door of the team’s new practice home.
It also convinced me that unless Barclays Center can make the necessary improvements that the Islanders want, it’s extremely likely that the team will exercise a reported opt-out after the fourth season in Brooklyn. Sure, the powers that be could add a little more orange and blue to the place, put some more Islanders imagery and memorabilia around the concourse, and even do something about that off-sides scoreboard.
Don’t get me wrong, I was one of the few people willing to give Barclays Center a chance, hoping it really wouldn’t be as bad as people had made it out to be.
There were some issues, but the building’s management team addressed them and the arena turned into a good venue by the end of the season for the Islanders. Despite its deficiencies, the place provided a solid home-ice advantage and it was really loud during the playoffs.
But Barclays Center is fighting an uphill battle against the ghosts of Nassau Coliseum. Although fans from Long Island still made their way to Brooklyn via the train, you couldn’t go five feet in the concourse without someone comparing it to the barn. There’s always going to be negativity about the building.
That’s because it’s not the Coliseum.
And, of course, there’s still the matter of those 1,500 or so obstructed-view seats, which appear to be there to stay.
But while the door to Uniondale looks closed, it sure does sound like the team wants to be closer to its fan base. Whether it’s next to Citi Field or next to Belmont Park, a new arena built for hockey would make a lot of unhappy Islanders fans ecstatic.
Either scenario would be good. Granted, Citi Field is in Queens, but fans would have the option of driving, riding the subway, or taking the Long Island Rail Road. The Belmont Park location works as well because it has accessibility by car, bus, and the train.
I’d love to continue having the feeling that the team will one day return to the Coliseum, but my source doused me with cold water. And while I have grown to like Barclays Center, the thought of the Islanders playing in a new arena with great sightlines and a center-hung scoreboard would certainly be appealing, regardless if it is in Queens or Nassau.
For now, the goal is to hoist the Stanley Cup in Brooklyn, for however long that stay ends up being.MORE NEWS: Avs Beat New York; Trouba Delivers Another Hard Check
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