Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hockey In Queens?

Recent scientific studies have shown that there is apparently a third NHL team that plays in the New York metropolitan area. In addition to the preeminent Rangers and perennially contending New Jersey Devils, there is apparently another team called the "New York Islanders", which plays in a rundown shack in Uniondale, New York called the "Nassau Coliseum".

I know, I was shocked, too, but apparently these "Islanders" have been around for more than three decades, and evidently have some history to their credit. One of the oft-forgotten dynasties of North American sports are the Isles of the early 1980s, who won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980-1983. In fact, they very nearly had a fifth one in 1984 until they ran into the Edmonton Oilers, who had some young buck named "Wayne Gretzky" (whatever happened to him?). The Islanders are now terrible, having not won a playoff series since 1993, but they still bring joy to the dozens of fans who show up at the Coliseum 41 times a year.

Who knew?

Ok, I knew. I've always known the Islanders existed, I'm very aware of the exploits of Mike Bossy and Bobby Nystrom, I know of their celebrity fans, which include Christie Brinkley and E from Entourage, and I actually own one of their jerseys -- but only because it's the most ridiculous sports uniform known to man. I especially dig the cheesy lighthouse logo on the shoulders. Those jerseys are so reviled by the 40 or so fans the Islanders still have that the team was forced to switch back to their old logo midway through the season.

I bring this up because yesterday brought a particularly interesting revelation as the Islanders sift through a long, and difficult process to upgrade the Coliseum or find a new stadium. Team owner Charles Wang has spent several years bickering with Nassau County officials over financing for a proposed renovation project that he favors called "The Lighthouse", which has a totally awesome website.

Unfortunately for Wang, the project has stalled over recent months, and while the Islanders' current lease doesn't run out until 2015 or so, time is beginning to run short on the crumbling Nassau Coliseum and Wang would like to know sooner rather than later if he's going to be able to keep the Isles in New York or move them to a plumb stadium deal elsewhere, such as Kansas City, which has the brand new Sprint Center waiting for a tenant. So while there had been rumors for a while that the Isles were considering moving into the yet to be built Barclays Center in Brooklyn or a new arena in Queens, no real progress had been made on either front or even been of discussion in public.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, word broke that Mets owner Jeff Wilpon has been in discussions with Wang over moving the Islanders into a new arena that would sit next to the Mets' Citi Field. The idea would be to level the chop shops behind Citi Field, which theoretically could be claimed by eminent domain, and build the arena over that territory, a plan which, to me, sounds awesome. There are any number of reasons why the Mets might be interested in partnering with what has looked like a moribund franchise for quite some time.

-- For one, the Isles and Mets share a generally common fan base, with the Mets drawing much of their market share from Nassau and Suffolk counties.
-- The acquisition of a hockey team could help improve Wilpon's prospects for landing a future Winter Classic at Citi Field, something he has publicly mentioned as a possibility.
-- The Islanders arena would increase the real estate value of the area and thus the value of both franchises.
-- The Islanders could provide Wilpon with winter programming for SNY, which spends most of November through March talking about how badly it wishes it were baseball season already.

I find this prospect pretty exciting, though it would mean we'd unfortunately never get to hear this again, because it would mean all three of the area's hockey teams would be easily reachable by train, heightening attendance and rivalries for all of them. Nassau Coliseum is notoriously hard to reach via public transportation, to the point that I, a 20-year area resident, have never even been to a game there.

Now, given how much time the Islanders have left in their current lease, any move or new arena is still several years off at best, but the prospect of having them play in a world class, accessible arena without leaving the immediate area is so exciting I get giddy at the prospect of wearing my Devils jersey out there on the 7 Train.

Maybe if we try hard enough, they'll bring back the Fisherman logo, too. Of course, we can't have everything. Besides, I think Gorton's might have some copyright issues to discuss in regards to that. Either way, having the Islanders in my home borough is an exciting prospect even if it's a ways away. I won't actually root for the Isles, but I will be watching. And you might want to, too.

Stay tuned on this one.

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