Like a kid from Hempstead moving out of their parent's house and into the big city, the New York Islanders hockey franchise just signed a lease in Brooklyn.
Team and league officials joined Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Borough President Marty Markowitz to announce a 25-year deal bringing professional hockey to Brooklyn for the first time since 1941.
“When the New York Islanders came into existence in 1972, they shared the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum with the New York Nets,” said Islanders owner Charles Wang, a borough native who attended nearby Brooklyn Tech. “This announcement today reunites these two franchises.”
The agreement between Barclays Center and the Islanders ends months of speculation over the future of the NHL hockey franchise.
The Islanders lease at the Nassau Coliseum expires at the end of the 2014-2015 season. The team has spent more than a decade trying to land a new arena on Long Island, with their last attempt going down the drain when a bond issuance was defeated by county voters in August 2011.
The Islanders have called the Coliseum their home since 1972 when they entered the National Hockey League as an expansion team. The team quickly rose to the top, winning four-straight Stanley Cup championships from 1980 through 1983. The Isles remained a contender into the mid-1990s, but as other teams built new arenas and netted larger revenue streams, the Islanders struggled to sign top players.
The team hasn't won a playoff round since 1993 and missed the playoffs entirely in each of the last five seasons.
The performance drop also kept fans away. The team was 29th out of 30 teams in attendance last season. Since the 2005-2006 season, they have never finished higher than 28th in attendance.
According to officials, Barclays Center currently has a capacity of 14,500 for hockey—compared to the 16,200 capacity of the Islanders' current home in Nassau County and 19,000 for the Brooklyn Nets in the same arena.
“We don’t think the amount of seats makes a material difference,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “The intimacy of this building is going to make watching hockey a terrific experience.”
Wendesday's announcement seemed to have no effect on the ongoing NHL player lock-out, which led to the cancelation of planned pre-season Islander games at the Brooklyn arena.
Bettman said he expected a deadline Thursday to salvage an 82-game season to pass without an agreement.
One Islanders fan, Charles McAnulla, standing outside Barclays Center in anticipation for the big announcement, said he was excited about seeing his team play in Brooklyn.
“Long Island is my home but I’m extremely excited to see the team come to Brooklyn,” said McAnulla, 35, an Oceanside, L.I. native living in Bensonhurst. “Perfect timing. Especially three years from now, it’s going to be beautiful here.”
As for the prospect for an inter-city rivalry with the New York Rangers?
“It’s going to be awesome. We have a great rivalry now, but this is going to be even better,” he said.