Two days after NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman hinted New York Islanders owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky were studying the franchise’s present and future home arena “options,” a report in Bloomberg, citing sources, said Barclays Center officials have determined housing the team is financially unviable.
Almost immediately, questions were raised about where the franchise would settle with the renovated Nassau Coliseum, Belmont and Willets Point, Queens, being listed as potential destinations. On Friday, the Governor of Connecticut and the Mayor of Hartford sent a letter to Malkin and Ledecky offering Hartford’s XL Center as both a short-and-long term home.
In the letter, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Mayor Luke Bronin wrote, Hartford is "an NHL market with more Fortune 500 companies than many NHL cities" and “Hartford was home to the Whalers, whose fan base is still ranked as one of the NHL's most energetic with the continued sale of items trademarked with the classic green and blue logo.
"This is a ready market anxious for an NHL team, eager to fill seats, buy merchandise and support your team."
The XL Center is the home of the Hartford Wolf Pack, the New York Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate. Hartford has not had a NHL franchise since 1996-97. At the end of that season, the then-Whalers relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina and were rebranded the Carolina Hurricanes.
An Islanders spokesperson later emailed a statement to the Hartford Courant in response to the letter.
"The public letter that the Connecticut Governor's office released earlier today was the first we had heard of the news. We are thrilled to be playing this season in front of our passionate New York Islanders fan base at Barclays Center with the goal of making the playoffs. We look forward to another great year of New York Islanders hockey at Barclays Center next season,” the team said.
As such, it does not seem likely that Hartford would gather much, if any, interest from the league and its Board of Governors - especially when factoring in Quebec City has a NHL-ready city. Seattle has also expressed interest in becoming an NHL market.
As Metro noted last week, Bettman told reporters during his State of the NHL address Saturday during NHL All-Star Weekend that Malkin and Ledecky “are committed to the franchise. They're committed to New York and the great fan base that has followed the Islanders. There are some issues about playing in Barclays. It may be fundamental to the system, and that's not something that can be fixed in the short term. I think as is prudent, Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky are reviewing the situation and looking very seriously at what their options are.”
Yet each potential destination in the New York market has drawbacks. When the Islanders left Nassau Coliseum following the 2014-15 season, then-majority owner Charles Wang and Bettman expressed their frustration with Nassau County politicians. And its believed the renovated Coliseum will only seat 13,000. Queens and Belmont do not yet have shovels in the ground, which would mean the Islanders would need to find an arena for the 2018-19 season. Plus in a region where the renovated Coliseum, Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center and Newark’s Prudential Center already compete for attractions and dates, is there an appetite for a fifth arena?
So, the possibility exists that Ledecky and Malkin may renegotiate the Islanders’ lease with Barclays in order for the franchise to remain in New York.
According to ESPN.com, the Islanders rank 29th in the NHL with an average attendance 12,787 through 31 home games. Only the Carolina Hurricanes, with an average attendance of 12,025 through 24 games, rank lower than the Islanders.