Islanders set for ugly divorce
The divorce proceeding has begun.
Already, it has been predictably ugly. And the dissolution of this marriage promises to get much worse before the New York Islanders and Nassau County walk away from each other.
The tenuous relationship between franchise and municipality may have been permanently fissured with Town of Hempstead supervisor Kate Murray’s comments to Newsday reporter Patrick Whittle regarding the status of Nassau Coliseum.
Nassau Coliseum, opened in 1972, is the second-oldest active arena in the NHL, behind only Madison Square Garden. The Islanders’ lease expires following the 2014-15 season, and both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and owner Charles Wang have publicly vowed the franchise will not play in the decaying arena after the lease is up.
Islanders general manager Garth Snow compared the arena to “an Auto Lodge,” during a press conference prior to the start of the Islanders’ 2010 training camp, and said the building’s lack of amenities made it impossible for the Islanders to compete in the free agent market. That has led to the Islanders having the lowest average cap hit and lowest average salaries the last four seasons.
The arena once bore the moniker Fort Neverlose during the dynasty days. Now it could now be re-titled Camp No One Shows Up. The Islanders’ 28th-ranked attendance in 2006-07 was their highest post-lockout.
Murray told Whittle that the Town of Hempstead “adopted our zone for the Coliseum area. Because this was such a jewel in the crown property, we created a zone that is sustainable from an economic standpoint. We want the visionaries, the landowners, Nassau County, to have as much flexibility as they seek a developer.
“We don’t make it a dead requirement that Nassau Coliseum be demolished or refurbished. We’re willing and able to segregate it out. We specifically don’t want to impose a vision. We want good commerce that we can sustain. Nassau County has the prerogative to create the vision. We have our prerogative as zone-okayers,” Murray said.
She also took a pointed and calculated shot at the Islanders, who haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 2007.
“These are low days for the NHL,” Murray said. “With the Rangers, it’s exciting.”
Murray’s comments to Newsday came a week after Bettman told the Associated Press Sports Editors that the Islanders and league are “continuing to explore and look at the options. But it’s clear that Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead don’t seem to be invested in having a new arena in the place that probably makes the most sense, namely where the Nassau Coliseum is.”
The league, the Islanders, the Town of Hempstead and Nassau County are engaged in a high-stakes game of chicken; one in which neither side has shown any inclination to find common ground outside of collective agreement that the Coliseum’s usefulness in 2012 is roughly equivalent to that of the Conestoga wagon.
Yet the end game will see the Islanders leave a region in which they were once an integral part of its fabric.