Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Working through the latest NHL relocation rumors

Did you hear the one about the NHL team that might be moving?

Sorry, weary hockey fans will reply, you’re going to need to be more specific.

The NHL is once again in the midst of a flurry of reports and rumors about teams that could need new homes. Maybe that means a new arena down the street. Or maybe it means a new home across the continent. The league always seems to have a few teams in the middle of some kind of uncertainty, and these days that’s more true than ever.

At some point, the stories all start to blend together, and it can get confusing. Let’s break out our handy Q&A format to see if we can sort it all out.

So what just happened with the New York Islanders?

Here’s the short version. For years, the Islanders were stuck playing in the Nassau Coliseum, an absolute dump of a building in Uniondale, New York. It was nearly 50 years old, and while it could boast plenty of history, it wasn’t anywhere near modern NHL standards. The team had been trying to find a replacement for years; in 2011, they went to voters to ask for $400m to build a new arena, and were soundly rejected.

And so, in 2012, the team announced that it would move to Brooklyn to share the Barclays Center with the NBA’s Nets, starting with the 2015-16 season.

How’d that go?

Awful, thanks for asking.

Barclays is a nice enough building, but it wasn’t built for hockey. Seating capacity was low, the sightlines didn’t work, and the ice was terrible. And maybe worst of all, the team’s longtime fan base in Long Island had to spend an hour on the subway just to see their team play home games, while potential new fans in Brooklyn never seemed to warm to the team.

The whole thing was a disaster from the start, and within a year everyone was searching for an exit plan. There was talk of an escape clause. One rumor had the team moving to Queens. And late last month, news broke that Barclays was planning on kicking the Islanders out, effective in 2019.

So where would they go?

Right now, nobody knows. The Barclays exit isn’t a done deal, so it’s always possible that they could find a way to stay, although at this point it’s hard to see how anybody would want that. They could revisit that Queens idea, even though it didn’t get much traction when it first came up last year. They could even move in with the Rangers for a while.

And if you really want to get silly, you could note that the old Nassau Coliseum was recently renovated; it’s too small now to be a long-term home, but could work as a temporary measure.

In a perfect world, now would be the time for the Islanders to get a new arena of their own somewhere. But teams normally get arena deals when they have leverage. Right now, the Islanders have none.

Could they move to a new market altogether?

It’s certainly an option, although right now it seems like everyone’s focus is on keeping the team in the New York area. But if they can’t find a fit, at some point relocation will have to be on the table. And there are markets out there that would be interested in taking them, including Seattle, Quebec City or Hartford.

Wait, Hartford? As in the Hartford Whalers?

The very same. The area apparently wants to get back into the NHL game, with a proposal to renovate the old Civic Center arena (now called the XL Center) to get it up to modern standards in an attempt to lure a team. When news of the Islanders’ arena troubles broke, the governor of Connecticut sent the team a letter offering them a new home.

Would now be a good time to listen to the Whalers fantastic old theme song?

Damn right it would.

>> Read the full post at The Guardian

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