Recent rumors have been circulating that indicate that the Barclays Center will no longer host the New York Islanders hockey team after the 2018-19 season. It may be possible for the Islanders to return to Nassau Coliseum after renovations are complete this year. But what if that is not possible? Would a new arena be built? Will the team have to relocate? There are multiple decisions the team could make.
Return to Nassau Coliseum
Just 19 miles east of New York City, a lone arena stands on Long Island that is currently undergoing renovations. Nassau Coliseum opened in 1972 and was the second oldest active NHL arena after Madison Square Garden before the Islanders moved. The Coliseum became an old, worn down structure that did not hold many people in comparison to other NHL arenas. There were even talks of completely replacing the arena, but the owners settled on renovations. After the Islanders were eliminated in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the arena closed for the start of those renovations. As of now, it is almost complete with the outside looking very futuristic, but seating has been downsized to accommodate mainly concerts and other entertainment of the like.
Would a move back to Nassau Coliseum be a plausible choice for the Islanders? I’d have to say no. If seating was downsized from the original small amount, it is not practical for an NHL team to play there from a business standpoint. A minor league hockey team would be more reasonable for the arena.
Relocation to Hartford
Hartford, Connecticut used to be home to the Hartford Whalers before the team moved to Raleigh, North Carolina in 1997 to become the Carolina Hurricanes. Overall, the organization has not had much success with 0 Stanley Cup wins and 2 Stanley Cup Final appearances in Hartford, while Carolina has 1 Stanley Cup win and has appeared in 2 Stanley Cup Finals.
Hartford, CT is home to about 125,000 people. Obviously, not every one of them are hockey fans. Right now, the city does have an AHL team: The Hartford Wolf Pack. The Wolf Pack are affiliated with the New York Rangers and have one of the worst attendance averages in the AHL with just under 4,000 fans attending each game this season and 4,200 over the past 4 seasons. The XL Center (the Wolf Pack’s home arena) holds 14,750 people for hockey games. 4,000 fans out of nearly 15,000 seats is obviously a very poor number, and if Hartford can’t have a solid attendance record for an AHL team, the city is not fit to bring back an NHL team.
So, would it be plausible for the Islanders to relocate to Hartford? As of right now, no. If attendance and support for the AHL team goes through the roof by 2018, then it may be a possibility. But right now, Hartford has poor marketability and a move there would not be a wise choice. Relocation to Hartford may be supportive of hockey fans around North America to see a team back in that city, but that does not necessarily mean they will become the Whalers again.
Relocation to Queens
Over the past few years, rumors of building a new arena next to Citi Field in the borough of Queens, New York City has come up. As any NHL fan that has not been under a rock knows, Barclays Center is an absolutely awful arena to watch hockey in. Some bad sight lines are mostly the cause of the uproar as well as ice issues, but the arena was not built with hockey in mind. A new arena near Citi Field would be about 13 miles away from Barclays Center. The arena would cost around $50M-$100M to build depending on sports venue averages and if the Islanders owner Charles Wang wants to put any extra amenities in there. A downside to this new arena is it would most likely be built with taxpayer money, and most people do not want to pay more taxes. That’s a completely separate issue, however.
Would a move to Queens be plausible? Yes. Relocation to Queens might be a good option, even if it means building a whole new arena. The middle ground distance is great for both fans in Brooklyn and from Nassau County where the Islanders played previously. Maybe even Mets fans will be interested in seeing the Islanders play. The question surrounds whether or not they can get any land and how they would pay for it.
It is a tough decision that must be answered in a short amount of time. Where will the New York Islanders end up in a few years? Only Charles Wang has a clue.
Andrew Ostrosky is the “Global Puck” writer for Good Night, Good Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @HockeyGuyFromSL.