Will there finally be one suitable arena problem resolved for the NHL? The team with the second smallest arena seating capacity for hockey, the New York Islanders might finally get a new arena built at Belmont Park. The Islanders ownership is clear. There has to be a new home for the Islanders somewhere, either in the New York area or in Hartford. Staying in the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn is not feasible unless there is an emergency situation.
Since their glory days in late 1970s and early 1980s, the Islanders have been a run down franchise, mostly because of their arena problem. The old Nassau Coliseum with its 16,000 seats was relevant in the 1970s when the NHL median arena seating was approximately the same but as the decades passed, that median is now over 18,000 seats and the Nassau Coliseum/Barclay’s Center is now the second smallest in the NHL, ahead of only Winnipeg. Still worse, the Barclay’s Center was built for basketball and has bad ice and obstructive view seating for hockey. Staying there for the long term really isn’t a feasible option.
The whole future of the franchise depends on moving to a suitable arena somewhere. The current Islanders ownership admirably wants to make the franchise a viable, contending team again but it cannot really start until the arena problem is solved. Their preference is to stay in the New York/Long Island area if a suitable arena can be built. Hartford and possibly Quebec City remain options if nothing local can be resolved.
The team has one genuine superstar, John Tavares, but a contending team cannot be built around him until the arena problem is clarified. With the bad ice and obstructive seats, the Islanders cannot sell out even the second smallest arena in the NHL. If the franchise is to survive, they have to have a new home somewhere.
Hartford knows it. The city and the state of Connecticut recently voted to spend $250 million to renovate the 41 year old XL Center to a more than adequate 19,000 seats. Then the mayor of Hartford and the Connecticut governor sent a letter to the Islanders inviting them to become a returned Hartford Whalers once the renovation is complete. But for now, the Islanders want to retain their traditional identity and remain in the New York area.
Unfortunately it is estimated that it will take Empire State Development 4-6 months to make a final decision on the arena issue and if favorable, it will take almost two years to build a new arena. Like all building projects, this requires some careful long-term thinking. Still from the Islanders point of view, it would be better if all the pre-planning period was over and construction finally started.
Hopefully, one of the worst issues on the NHL’s plate will finally be favorably resolved. That only leaves the decision of whether the NHL will accept renovated old arenas in Hartford and Seattle as good enough to grant expansion franchises; whether there will be new arenas in Ottawa and Calgary; whether there will be an Arizona Coyotes in the future; whether the new arenas being built in San Francisco and Milwaukee which are being built for the NBA will also be suitable for hockey or have the same problems as the Barclay’s Center; setting a suitable compensation package for Toronto and Buffalo and finally letting Hamilton have an NHL franchise (remember them, Gary Bettman?); and resolving the Quebec City ownership mess. Other than that, happy times are coming to the NHL.