By IRA PODELL, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Islanders finally have a new home and it's in Brooklyn, the borough that is suddenly a hot bed of pro sports 54 years after baseball's Dodgers headed west.
"It's a new place and it's only 35 minutes away by train," team owner Charles Wang said at a news conference Wednesday. "Come and join us and see hockey."
After seven months of negotiations, and offers to move the team out of New York, Wang announced that the Islanders will relocate about 25 miles west once their lease expires at Nassau Coliseum after the 2014-15 season.
Since the day the Islanders entered the NHL in 1972, the Coliseum in Uniondale has been the place for them. It's where they grabbed the hockey spotlight, outshined the big, bad Rangers, and won the Stanley Cup four straight times from 1980-83.
But on Wednesday, the future became all about Brooklyn.
The move is hardly shocking and not even unprecedented. The old New York Nets left Nassau Coliseum way back when, relocated to New Jersey, and have moved into their new Brooklyn home — the new Barclays Center that will also house the Islanders.
Unlike the Nets, who changed the team logo and added Brooklyn to their name, the Islanders are sticking to their heritage through and through.
That is important to Mike Bossy, a Hockey Hall of Famer now serves as the Islanders' vice president of corporate partnerships.
"Absolutely," he said. "Charles' main goal was to keep the team local, and he succeeded in doing that. As much as people may be upset because it's not going to be in Nassau County they should be happy because he kept the team in New York."
The Barclays Center sits across the street from the site Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley hoped to put a baseball stadium to keep his club in New York. He was unable to pull it off, so the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles in 1958 and the borough was without a major pro sports franchise until the Nets' arrival this year.
Coincidentally, the Nets hosted the New York Knicks in an NBA preseason game at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday night.
Real estate developer Bruce Ratner, a minority owner of the Nets, was instrumental in getting the Barclays Center built and paving the way for Brooklyn to re-enter the world of sports in a major way. The building is the main part of a $3.5-billion sports arena, business and residential complex called Atlantic Yards that was built by Ratner's company.
"He got offers to move the team out of state — good offers — but Charles wouldn't do that," Ratner said. "Charles is the real hero here today."
Wang wanted to keep the team in New York despite failing to get the Lighthouse Project built on Long Island. The grandiose development plan would have included a new arena for the Islanders, but it never got the necessary approval for construction.
Both Wang and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stated in the past that the Islanders wouldn't play in Nassau Coliseum one day longer that they had to. Wang said he had serious options to move the team far away — Kansas City and Quebec City both had been mentioned — but stuck to his desire to remain in the area.
"We came to the right conclusion," Wang said.
The Islanders hope this move will help them on and off the ice. The team hasn't reached the playoffs since 2007 and hasn't won a postseason series since 1993.
Wang started Wednesday's festivities in the lobby of the new arena with a bold proclamation of "Hello Brooklyn!"
He will have to wait a few years to finally see his team hit the ice in the intimate building that is expected to hold between 14,500 and 15,000 for hockey. Wang said he has no intention of trying to get out of his Long Island lease early. Once the Islanders settle into Brooklyn, they will begin a 25-year lease at the Barclays Center.
"The Islanders, I believe, will be strengthened because they were playing in an inadequate facility, and the fan experience here will be much better," Bettman said. "If a franchise is strengthened, that's good for everybody."
And the NHL is certainly looking for any positive news it can get as the 39-day old lockout casts a pall over the hockey world. Bettman couldn't avoid questions about the seemingly imminent announcement that regular-season games will be canceled for good.