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Islanders schedule part-time return to Nassau Coliseum

Islanders schedule part-time return to Nassau Coliseum

'Their coming home is in many ways a sense of the revitalization of Long Island'
Islanders schedule part-time return to Nassau Coliseum
Members of the New York Islanders celebrate at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on April 19, 2015.
Photographer: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The New York Islanders will be returning part-time to Nassau Coliseum for the next three seasons as their new arena at Belmont Park is being built.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that the Islanders would play about half of their games at their former home, splitting time with Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn arena, which the Isles share with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, has been an odd fit for hockey since the team began playing there after the 2014-15 season.

“When the Islanders left, it was sad,” said Cuomo, who grew up nearby in Queens. “You feel like you are losing part of who you are, your identity. Their coming home is in many ways a sense of the revitalization of Long Island. At the end of three seasons, we should have the new arena built, so it’s all good.”

The Islanders announced last month that the state’s top development agency, Empire State Development, had accepted their proposal for an 18,000-seat arena adjacent to the Belmont Park grandstand.

The new arena will host at least 41 Islanders games a season. A 400,000-square-foot retail village and a hotel are also part of the planned $1 billion project, which has yet to begin construction.

The Islanders’ majority owner, Jon Ledecky, said he hoped to break ground at Belmont as soon as possible. The arena is expected to open in time for the 2021-22 season.

Ledecky added that fans have been clamoring for a return to Long Island where the team played for 43 years.

“If they had to stand, 14,000 fans would come and stand here,” he said, gesturing toward new seats at the Coliseum. “That’s how excited they are.”

The Coliseum, which was renovated after the Islanders left, seats 13,500 for hockey, about 2,000 fewer than Barclays Center. And the Coliseum does not have the amenities of Barclays Center, which opened in 2012. (The two arenas are managed by the same company, Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment.)

Ledecky said the rationale for a split schedule was purely financial.

“To be a max cap salary team you have to maximize revenue,” he said. “The Coliseum amenities are not as good as Barclays. There are over 100 suites at Barclays and less than a dozen here. Nassau Coliseum does not have an optimal situation at this point.”

But for Ledecky, who became the Islanders’ majority owner with Scott Malkin in 2016, the part-time shift to Long Island is the appropriate precursor to the Belmont move. And it represents a happy medium since he has been seeking a way out of the team’s unhappy marriage with Barclays Center.

“This is something fans wanted to see. It brings us back to our home and gets us teed up for the next third-generation arena at Belmont,” he said.

Ledecky also said particulars of the 2018-19 schedule are entirely up to the NHL, which usually releases season calendars in June.

“They have not given us any indication of time frame, dates or days of the week so far,” Ledecky said. “They are in charge of scheduling.”

The Islanders moved after Charles Wang, the previous majority owner, couldn’t persuade Nassau County voters to approve his Lighthouse Project, which included plans for a new arena.

Tuesday is the deadline for the Islanders or Barclays Center to opt-out of their lease agreement.

Sharing Barclays Center with the Nets has been difficult. There are hundreds of obstructed-view seats for hockey, and there were frequent complaints about the quality of the ice.

Fans have also not shown up in strong numbers. The Islanders are last in the NHL in attendance this season, with just over 12,000 fans a game. They were also near the bottom the previous two seasons. The Islanders reached the second round of the playoffs in 2016, their first season in Brooklyn.

Stabilizing the arena situation has been important to the Islanders and not unrelated to another priority: re-signing John Tavares, the team’s captain and star, to a long-term contract. He can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

After practice Monday, Tavares, 27, said he had a “big connection” to Nassau Coliseum because “that’s where it all began.”

“I’m not going to say whether it changes my thought process,” he added, referring to the return to the Coliseum. “I don’t think my thought process has really changed. I just go a day at a time.

“Anything that involves playing hockey and my daily life away from the rink is going to be factored into my decision,” he said. “I think it’s great we’re going back and to having an opportunity to play there again. I think it’s only positive.”

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