Islanders Vote: Long Island Hockey on the Line

Nassau County residents head to the polls today to vote on a $400 million bond issue to finance a new coliseum for the New York Islanders and a minor league ballpark for the Ducks.  Polling indicates there is opposition to the plan because Nassau is in financial ruin.  The county is already running a huge deficit.  Nassau’s financial situation is so tenuous that it remains under the auspices of the state’s Nassau County Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) which was created to get the county’s spending under control.  If the deal is approved by voters, both NIFA and a supermajority of county legislators must approve it.  It’s still an uphill battle for Isles owner Charles Wang and County Exec. Edward Mangano to sell the plan to NIFA and the Legislature even if the voters approve the bond.

I’m was born and raised on Long Island.  Hell, virtually every 17th century town charter has a signature of one of my ancestors on it.  I’m a proud Islander.  I hate the damn place so that should show you my affection for it.  Some things are just wrong.  The Islanders moving away fits that definition.  It would be as if Billy Joel suddenly disowned Long Island or the Montauk Lighthouse fell into the Atlantic.  OK, those would be travesties but local hockey fans will have a collective stroke if the Islanders bolt.

Multiple plans have been put forth over the past decade to replace Nassau Coliseum.  None have been acceptable to a broad base of residents or politicians.  Suffice it to say, the Coliseum is a dump and should be razed immediately.  The Islanders cannot profit there.  Unfortunately, the best option that would’ve relocated the Isles to a new venue across from CitiField was obliterated when the Madoff scandal hit.  Another option would be Brooklyn’s new basketball arena but it is not designed for hockey, although that is an easy retrofit.  The Brooklyn option assures the Islanders technically stay on Long Island but what sort of fan base could they muster being so dislocated from their old home.

Wang has consistently stated that if the Islanders don’t have a new home when their lease expires in 2015, he will move the team.  Unless Wang sells to Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov or some pro-Brooklyn group, I highly doubt Wang himself would move the Isles there.  If by some miracle the Flushing idea is resurrected, then Wang would move them there but that idea is dead, dead, dead.  Several Canadian cities are vying for a franchise.  No doubt these cities will court Mr. Wang in the next few months if the vote fails.

Does this bond pass? No. I’m betting it’s dismissed by voters.  In the event it does pass, NIFA will not approve the deal.  The county is essentially bankrupt and New York state officials will not allow more ‘reckless’ spending.  For thousands in Nassau County, ditching a hockey team with the NHL’s lowest attendance (a scant 11,000 per game) is a no-brainer.  Though Islanders management will point to the Coliseum as the main cause for their problems, others will argue that a better product would’ve led to the Coliseum’s replacement when the economy was booming.

The Isles have been abysmal, last sniffing a conference title twenty years ago.  An Islanders captain hasn’t lifted the Stanley Cup in nearly thirty seasons.  Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is part of the problem but is emblematic of a larger issue; the slow death of Long Island hockey fans.  If Islander fans were as loyal as they were decades ago, attendance figures wouldn’t be so dreadful and a new Coliseum would’ve been built years ago.  I fear no alternative exists to save the New York Islanders.  Even a win today could be a loss if turnout is exceptionally low as expected.  Canada smells blood in its southern waters and is poised to snatch the Isles out of the Atlantic.  Can Long Island snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?  Probably not.  A small miracle is needed to keep the Islanders on Long Island.  For me, vote Yes!  Save the Isles if you can.

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