In attending last night's latest Islander loss in overtime to the Toronto Maple Leafs, it suddenly dawned on me while I was sitting in Nassau Coliseum that the place is all used up. It's finished. Its time has passed. Granted, a winning franchise would make the place feel different, but the Islanders have not done that with any consistency at any point in the past 20 years.
Some people will say that winning will solve all of the problems and make the place happening again. Guess what? It won't. The New York Yankees drew horribly in the early 1990s until they started to win the World Series again. The thing is, no one in his or her right mind will ever compare the old Yankee Stadium to the Nassau Coliseum. Yankee Stadium, with all of its issues as an outdated facility had character. It was a venue that lived and breathed sports history in spite of its status as an outdated venue.
Despite the Islanders' success in the early 1980s, Nassau Coliseum has never had that aspect of being a sports mecca. It has never been a place steeped in hockey history. It was never maintained or presented as a top flight venue. It was always just adequate enough to house the Islanders when John O. Pickett, the Islanders' owner, signed the Islanders to the worst lease agreement in professional sports back when the Islanders were one of the premier teams in the NHL. That lease is finally coming to an end in 2015.
I received tickets to a Brooklyn Nets game and attended it with my two boys on February 22. From the moment we arrived in Brooklyn until the moment we left the event, the arena, the concessions, the amenities, everything, it lived and breathed first class. Make no mistake, this venue is a place that NBA players have to be looking forward to coming into and playing the sport they love instead of that look of pity visiting hockey teams give when they have to play a game at Nassau Coliseum.
Not even one year into their move to Brooklyn, the Nets are an attraction. They are something unique and are treated and looked at as a first class organization. Top flight NBA players are coming to the Nets as a destination they want to play and the Nets are a power in the NBA as opposed to being a joke.
The value of having a marquee destination to play cannot be understated. The problem for the Islanders is, they have to wait to move to Brooklyn's beautiful Barclays Center and play out their prison sentence in Nassau Coliseum for two more years after this season. Something has to be done about this. The Islanders need to be paroled. They need to relocate to their new shining jewel of an arena sooner than later. Why? Because all they are doing in Nassau Coliseum is treading water waiting for the rescue ship to come in and bring them to greener pastures.
In traveling to Brooklyn for the first time to take in the Nets game, I made sure to be observant of everything I possibly could. So much has been said about how traveling to the Barclays Center was going to be more difficult, more expensive and more time consuming. Depending on where you are traveling from, this may or may not be true.
Islander fans in Suffolk County and out east would be better served taking the Long Island Railroad to the arena (Atlantic Terminal is literally across the street from the front door of the arena) but that does not mean that driving is impossible. I decided to drive and park in one of the lots available near the arena. I bought my parking pass online for $20, drove to the arena and found the lot with no problems at all. The total travel time was 50 minutes from Popeye's in Westbury to walking into the doors of the Barclays Center. Yes it was that easy. Forty minutes of driving time and an eight minute walk to the doors.
People will say oh I can be at the Coliseum in 10 minutes. The reason getting into the Coliseum is so easy these days is because the attendance is in the proverbial crapper. I'm not sure how many people remember what it was like getting in and out of the Coliseum when people flocked to Islander games in the early 80s. To be short, it was horrendous. If you factor everything into the mix, getting to and from the Barclays Center will take you longer than Nassau Coliseum but not nearly to the levels you would think.
Will the Islanders benefit acquiring talent due to moving to Brooklyn?
Walking through those doors at the Barclays Center you are met with friendly, smiling greeters welcoming you to the Barclays Center. I have been to a lot of venues, and I have never been met with this kind of greeting. It was warm and inviting and a great experience. The concessions and the amenities available are simply top of the line, and not so especially expensive as say Madison Square Garden or Yankee Stadium. We had infinite choices for refreshments, food, shopping for Nets gear, tickets or anything you could possibly imagine. One very nice touch was that at every concession stand they offered famous Brooklyn eateries specialties.
Then we arrived at our seats. We sat in the section of the seats that will be annexed for the extended room needed for the hockey playing surface at one of the ends of the arena. To put it mildly, the sight lines are spectacular. The seating is roomy and comfortable. The atmosphere in the arena is exciting and new. The sound system is also spectacular. The scoreboard is amazing. The video boards throughout the arena are high definition and clear as crystal. The arena announcer presents the announcements in a way that gets you excited to be there.The presentation of the game was absolutely amazing. The way the floor was lit was not destroyed with light, but perfect.
My sons, who are 13 and eight, were amazed at the presentation of the game itself and the full-house crowd's reactions to the action. I have taken them to many Islander games and I cannot remember them being so impressed with the show the home team put on from the product on the court to the public address announcements to the way the game itself was presented.
Things like this cannot happen at Nassau Coliseum. After sitting in the Barclays Center and then sitting in Nassau Coliseum essentially back-to-back, you simply cannot understand what simply moving this team to Brooklyn will do for the Islanders. They are currently in the worst arena in pro sports, they have the worst accommodations of any pro team in the country in any league. Moving to Brooklyn will bring an excitement and a new energy to the team. Imagine if Ryan Smyth had come into the Barclays Center when the Islanders traded for him. What about other free agents that have spurned Islander millions to take less to go elsewhere? What about all of the players who have been traded to the Islanders react as if they are being sent to the NHL's version of Siberia? There is a reason the Islanders are having to scrape the bottom of the free agent barrel and scour the waiver wire looking for anyone who can come in and help the team.
That is because no one with any modicum of freedom wants to play for the Islanders unless they have no other alternative. That is why John Tavares signing his six year extension with the team was such a shocker. Here is a marquee player, a budding superstar committing a six year extension two years before his contract expired that had the hockey world in an uproar questioning whether Garth Snow had some compromising pictures of Tavares in his back pocket. The national and Canadian hockey media were absolutely stunned that someone would commit to playing hockey for the Islanders long term. The Islanders' main problem is that not all players are John Tavares and will sign with them based on loyalty and the desire to bring the Islanders back to their long awaited former glory.
Mark my words. When the Islanders move into the Barclays Center, no one will question why a player would sign with the Islanders. Make no mistake about it. That is why Charles Wang has to do everything in his power and buy Nassau Coliseum out of the last two years of the lease and get his team into Brooklyn sooner rather than later.
All my kids asked me on the way home was why the Islanders can't move there now. They didn't complain about the drive or the walk to the arena or anything else and neither did I. I have to ask the same question: Why can't they move there now?