The Florida Panthers open their 2011-2012 campaign against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island. Depending on what happens at the polls Nassau County on August 1st, it either be the beginning of a countdown to a new arena, or to the end of the franchise in its current location. On that date, county voters will vote on a $400 million bond referendum which would provide the money necessary to build a new rink and a minor league baseball park adjacent to the Coliseum.
The Islanders have called the building home since 1972, making it the second oldest rink the NHL. Thirty years ago, the team was collecting Stanley Cups (under the direction of then-GM Bill Torrey) the way kids collect hockey cards. Today, the lack of a modern arena dollars (with assists owner Charles Wang to Mike Milbury‘s horrible reign as GM) has left the team struggling to draw fans and running out of options. Without a new building, the consensus seems to be that the team will have little other choice but to relocate.
Fans of the relocated Quebec Nordiques (now the Colorado Avalanche) did their best last December to let Commissioner Gary Bettman know they’d gladly take them. Twenty-two buses took approximately 1,100 Nordiques fans to an Islanders home game on December 11 (ironically, against the now sold-and-relocated Atlanta Thrashers) to protest the fact that teams with attendance problems still have a one to call their own while they go without.
Knowing that the sharks are circling, the team has begun a ‘Vote Yes on 1′ campaign utilizing former players, celebrities with Long Island ties, and local business leaders rally citizen to their cause. In a very savvy move, they’ve chosen to emphasize the jobs/economic impact in these hard economic times in a bankrupt county. Whether or not the benefits outweigh the costs is a debate I’ll leave for folks far smarter than I on such issues. I’m just a hockey fan.
Will the measure pass? Chris Botta, who knows the Islanders better than just about anyone, seems to think so for a number of reasons. If it doesn’t pass, expect more Nordique fans on the island all winter long as relocation will probably be inevitable.
Call me sentimental, but I’d be sad as a hockey fan to see four championship banners and eight Hockey Hall of Famers have to find somewhere else to call home.
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