By Peter Schwartz
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When I was growing up in East Meadow on Long Island, my aunt, uncle, and cousins lived only about a mile away. Our two families couldn’t have been any closer and we enjoyed so many great times together, including going to Islanders games. For my father, being just a Mike Bossy slapshot away from his brother was very special and that rubbed off on everyone.
One day, we got hit with the crushing news. My uncle and his family were moving to New Jersey. The bad news was that I couldn’t ride over to their house on my bicycle anymore, but the good news was that they would still be close enough for the occasional visit, especially on weekends and sometimes even for a football game.
Now, there’s a big difference between a team moving and family moving, but my warped mind has always compared my feelings about the Jets moving to New Jersey to my uncle and his family relocating to the Garden State. It was really hard to see the Jets move from Shea Stadium to Giants Stadium and I felt the same way about members of my family.
I could still go to Jets games and I could still see my family, but not nearly as often as I was accustomed.
Fast forward many years later and I’ve tried to apply the same feeling to the Islanders. As I’ve stated before, I wasn’t happy one bit when the Islanders failed to get an arena deal done in Nassau County and were forced to move to Brooklyn. I never in a million years could imagine that they would leave. The Nassau Coliseum was the Islanders’ home for 43 years and for heaven’s sake their sweater sported their geographic area on their logo.
But thanks to the politicians and a lack of vision, the Islanders moved west. Now, the silver lining was that I could still go to games and Barclays Center had some amenities for the players and fans that the coliseum didn’t.
The biggest reason to just deal with the move to Brooklyn was that Islanders general manager Garth Snow could finally tell free agents where the team was going to be playing long term. In the past, there were free agents who either didn’t want to play at the coliseum or simply wouldn’t sign with the Islanders because of the uncertainly of where their home would be.
All of that changed with the move to Brooklyn and the 25 year “ironclad” lease at Barclays Center. The Islanders finally had stability and a long-term home.
Or so we thought.
We now seem to be back to square one.
Since the team announced it was moving to Brooklyn, there have rumors about a mutual opt-out clause for both the Islanders and Barclays Center. Then came reports that new owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin are looking to build a new arena either next to Citi Field or next to Belmont Park. And then this week, Newsday reported that it had obtained documents with details about the opt-out clause that can be exercised by the team after three seasons.
So, where will the Islanders be playing in five years?
A new arena? It could happen, although it could take more than five years when you factor in politics and construction. Plus, you have the usual annoying questions surrounding location and who could/should pay for it. I prefer the Citi Field location over Belmont Park, but either spot would be an easier commute for Islanders fans that what they have now.
Barclays Center? It’s still a possibility. The opt-out could be triggered, but both sides could agree to a short-term lease while a new arena is being built. Brooklyn could very well turn out to be just a lifeboat for the Islanders or things could get worked out to the point where they do indeed stay there for the long haul.
The renovated Nassau Coliseum? As a source told me in early August, it’s not likely. However, just keep in mind the fact that the new coliseum will open in March and there is a plan for the Islanders to play six games a season there. Even if they just play a preseason game there, say as early as next season, could you imagine the rekindled romance that would take place?
At this point, my feeling is that I would like to opt-out of all this arena talk, but it just follows this team around like impending danger.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Islanders are getting ready for a new season and they have a pretty good team. Coming off of back-to-back 100-point seasons and their first playoff series win in 23 years, the focus should be on the ice and not arena issues like obstructed-view seats, train schedules, and posturing from all sides.
Instead of talking about how the new-look Islanders will do on the ice, we’re still talking about what ice they’ll be playing on a few years from now. I read all of the stories and talk to a lot of people about this whole issue and quite frankly it makes me sick to my stomach. I just want to watch the Islanders play. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that Islanders hockey will never be like it was at the coliseum, especially during the glory years.
But I’m a fan, so just tell me when and where the game is and I’ll go. I’m sure the new owners will do what’s in the best interests of the franchise, but I’m just so sick and tired of all the rhetoric, and that’s mostly because of how much it hurt that they left Long Island in the first place.
After my uncle moved to New Jersey, he never dangled a carrot that he would eventually move back, but that’s what’s happening here with the Islanders. The reality is that the fans are now being given this hope that the team could eventually return to its roots while trying to write a new chapter in its storied history at its new home in Brooklyn.
The new season opens Oct. 13 against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The home opener is three nights later against the Anaheim Ducks. I plan on being at Barclays Center that night with my family rooting on our favorite team. We’ll take the train there instead of driving like we used to do, but at the end of the commute we’ll be at an Islanders game.
There’s no opting out of being an Islanders fan, regardless of where they play. Just pick a place, put down the roots and raise some more Stanley Cup banners.
Don’t forget to follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan