The New York Islanders finally have a home.
Owner Charles Wang announced the franchise has agreed to move to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center beginning with the 2015-16 season in a press conference yesterday.
“Today, we are announcing that the New York Islanders will remain in the local marketplace as we entered into a 25-year agreement beginning with the 2015-16 season to play in this state-of-the-art building,” Wang said. “I want to congratulate [Barclays Center majority owner and developer Bruce Ratner] on achieving his goal of bringing professional sports back to Brooklyn as the New York Islanders will join the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center. This announcement reunites these two franchises.”
Along with Wang, Islanders general manager Garth Snow, vice president of corporate sponsorships Mike Bossy, assistant coach and senior advisor to the general manager Doug Weight and head coach Jack Capuano also represented the Islanders. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in attendance, as was Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Barclays Center and Brooklyn Nets CEO Brett Yormark and Ratner.
Wang said the negotiations with Barclays executives to move the franchise took “seven months.” He added that he will remain as owner of the Islanders, who will retain their name, and that the team will honor the remainder of their lease at Nassau Coliseum.
Wang had long been frustrated that plans to privately and publicly finance a new Nassau Coliseum had collapsed due to politics.
“We tried very hard to keep the Islanders in their original home in Nassau County,” Wang said, before thanking Nassau County executive Ed Mangano “for trying to find a solution to keep us there.
“Our goal from the outset was to have the Islanders play in a local, world-class facility that possessed the amenities that our fans deserve.”
“I am disappointed to learn of the Islanders’ plan to relocate to Brooklyn,” Town of Hempstead supervisor Kate Murray said in a statement. “They’ve been a valued part of this region’s identity, and we wish the team great success in the future.”
The state of the Coliseum and the uncertainty surrounding the franchise’s future had made attracting free agents a near-impossibility for Snow. The Islanders have routinely been among the league’s lowest payroll teams.
Now, the possibility exists that the Islanders can compete for premier free agents.
“It’s beautiful. One walk through and you can see everything is first class all the way,” Snow said. “It’s hard to compete without first-class amenities. This is an outstanding building and facility.
“It’s huge. Facilities play a big part in recruitment.”
The relationship between Barclays and Islanders officials had led to an announcement last January that the Islanders and Devils were to play a preseason game at Barclays, but due to the ongoing lockout it was cancelled. That game would have been the first sporting event at the new building.
The arena will host two regular season Kontinental Hockey League games in January. When asked by Metro if he would attend the KHL games, Bettman said, “probably not.”
Barclays Center currently seats 14,500 for hockey, but Bettman professed that was not an issue for the league. The commissioner suggested that Barclays could add another 500 to 1,000 seats. He also pointed out that MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba is the smallest venue in the NHL, yet played to full capacity during the 2011-12 season.
Bettman talks lockout
Following the Islanders’ press conference, Bettman said it was up to “the Players’ Association to either negotiate with us over the proposal to save the 82-game season or to make an offer, and they’ve declined to do either.”
When asked by Metro if a shortened season was a possibility, Bettman said, “Sure, you can play an abbreviated season. I’d rather play a full season. And I’m sure our fans would rather [we] play a full season. That’s why we made the offer we did. We very much want to play and we’re very disappointed that we’re not.”
Bettman added that if a deal is not in place by November, the league would have to make the decision to cancel the Winter Classic. This year’s game is scheduled to be played at Michigan Stadium on Jan. 1.
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman for continuing updates on the NHL lockout.