The New York Islanders need a new home. The glory years at Nassau Coliseum when the Isles were hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup on a regular basis are long gone. The 40-year-old arena in Uniondale (opened February 11, 1972) is showing its age. Simply put, it is not fit for a modern day NHL franchise. How bad is it?
Last March it was reported that claims of asbestos contamination were being investigated.
Even if the New York Department of Labor concludes that the air is safe, who wants to go to a hockey game in a building with an asbestos problem?
And it isn’t just asbestos. The arena is the second oldest in the NHL after Madison Square Garden, which opened on February 11, 1968. MSG also had asbestos fall from the ceiling last year, postponing a Knicks basketball game. But the world’s most famous arena is in the middle of a massive $850 million, three-summer renovation project. Nassau is also the second smallest arena (16,250 seating capacity) after the home of the Winnipeg Jets, MTS Centre (15,015).
So Nassau needs to go. But where will the Isles go? There are a few possibilities. First, it should be noted that the lease runs until 2015, so barring health inspectors declaring the building unsafe due to asbestos contamination, the Isles could very well stay there another three years. Back in 2004 Isles owner Charles Wang proposed the Lighthouse Project, which would have have built a new arena on the same site along with housing, hotels, restaurants, stores and offices. Unfortunately for Islanders fans who want to keep the team on Long Island, Nassau County voters struck down the project last year.
So unless Wang pulls off a miracle, three years from now the Islanders will likely no longer be residing on the Island. Well, at least not in the suburbs. Did you know that the New York City borough of Brooklyn is technically a part of Long Island? And that the Brooklyn Nets will be playing in the sparkling new Barclays Center next season? And that the Isles are playing a preseason game against the New Jersey Devils in Brooklyn on October 2nd?
But before looking at the likelier option of the Islanders moving to Brooklyn, there is a city in Canada that is hungry for professional hockey to return. Quebec City lost the Nordiques in 1995 when the team relocated to Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche. Quebecers have recently been forced to watch another Canadian city get back their team when the Jets returned to Winnipeg. How passionate are Nordiques fans to get a team back? Well, they certainly have their sights set on the Islanders. In fact, in December 2010 an estimated 1,100 Nordiques fans arrived in a bus caravan from Quebec City to invade Nassau Coliseum and voice their support for the Isles moving north.
With fans willing to travel 550 miles from Quebec City to Uniondale, NY, the people want the NHL back. And the arena is coming too. In fact, what perfect timing, the New Quebec City Amphitheatre, also called Quebecor Arena, is due to open in 2015, the same year the lease expires at Nassau. And it will seat 18,000, which is more than the Barclays Center, which will only be able to seat 14,500 for hockey, making it the smallest arena in the NHL. There is the possibility that the Columbus Blue Jackets or the Phoenix Coyotes could relocate to Quebec City, which would provide much relief to Islanders fans. But if the Coyotes get their ownership issues sorted out they will stay in the desert and the NHL really wants Columbus to work out, even placing the All Star game there next season. And even if the Jackets or Coyotes decide to move, there is no guarantee it would be to Quebec. Other relocation options include Seattle, where there is a proposal to build a new arena in the SoDo neighborhood; Kansas City, the home of the new Sprint Center; and Hamilton, Ontario, home to Copps Coliseum.
But Brooklyn is the better and likelier option for the Islanders. Even with the low seating capacity, Barclays Center is a natural fit. First, the location would allow the Isles to retain their identity and fan base. And the team has an agreement with their cross-town rival Rangers that allows them to relocate anywhere in Long Island, including Brooklyn and Queens. In addition to the preseason game against the Devs, Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League will be playing some games at Barclays, so it is definitely hockey ready. But NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said recently that, in addition to the small capacity, the Barclays Center is hard to get to for Islanders fans living in Queens and Long Island. Bettman made this comment despite the fact that Barclays sits atop one of the largest transit hubs in New York, with easy access to many subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road commuter trains.
What do you think? Will the Islanders stay in Nassau? Move to Brooklyn? Relocate to Quebec City? Skate somewhere else?