You’d be hard pressed to find someone who fawns over Nassau Coliseum in its current condition. It’s old, it smells funny, it leaks – it needs to be renovated from the top to the bottom and back up again. Islanders owner Charles Wang should move the team to a new building that’s deserving of a modern NHL franchise. What was good in the 70s and 80s isn’t good in the 2010s, and that isn’t just a reference to the Islanders’ record, either. It’s time for an upgrade in arena.
Unfortunately for Islanders fans, that arena upgrade was never going to happen at its present location. It was just a matter of time until the team relocated, but where? Would the once-proud franchise leave to go to Kansas City? Seattle? Quebec? No. It would go someplace closer, somewhere very different compared to its current home. It would go to Brooklyn.
An arena grew in Brooklyn; the Barclay’s Arena was set to host a Devils/Islanders game this preseason to give a hockey setup a test run. It will be waiting until January for a duo of games between SKA St. Petersburg and Dynamo Moscow to do so, but who needs a test run when you have a lease agreement with a brand new arena?
Does it matter that the arena is 500 seats smaller than Winnipeg’s MTS Centre? Does it matter that the sight lines for hockey are terrible and that there will have to be a good deal of retooling for the game before 2015-2016 season. But retooling there will be, and chances are very good that the excitement of a team in a new locale will bump attendance up for the team.
Sadly for the blue collar fans of the Isles, the new arena is about an hour away and involves a good deal of travel to get there. While the team gets to keep their name (per the insistence of the NHL), their traditions and culture are gone. This isn’t the move from Mellon Arena to CONSOL Energy Center. That was a bittersweet recognition that it was time for a new arena and for the old one to come down. Those buildings were practically next to each other, and the Penguins fan base had no further to travel. Not like that matters, because their fan base is huge and widespread thanks to recent success.
The Islanders haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1984. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2007 and have finished last in the difficult Atlantic Division for five seasons in a row. They have a ton of promise, though – and the new fans in Brooklyn are hopping in at just the right time. But those fans aren’t what make the Islanders special.
The dedicated fans who file into Nassau are what make the Islanders special. The grit of the team, the determination to improve, Jack Capuano’s hair – they’re the working class team of the NHL. And they’re fantastic that way. In their shiny new arena with their probable new hipster fans they aren’t the Islanders. Long Island is. Nassau is. And it’s sad that era’s gone. But hey, they liked the Islanders before the Islanders were cool, so take that, Brooklyn hipsters.
Photo courtesy of The New York Times.