Should everything go according to plan, the New York Islanders will soon have a new ownership team to accompany its new locale.
Subject to National Hockey League (NHL) approval, former Washington Capitals co-owner Jon Ledecky and London-based investor Scott Malkin will purchase a substantial minority interest in the Islanders from Charles Wang, with the Ledecky/Malkin group transitioning to majority owner in two years, the Islanders announced last month.
The team’s sale and relocation were set into motion after Nassau County’s voters soundly rejected, in a 2011 referendum, the use of taxpayer monies to build a new Coliseum, and a minor league baseball stadium, in Uniondale. A year later, Wang said the Islanders would move to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center at the start of the 2015-2016 season.
The imminent ownership change comes as the Islanders gear up for their final season at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the team’s home since they joined the NHL in 1972. Bruce Ratner’s Nassau Events Center (NEC), the developer the county chose to redevelop the Coliseum, has said the Islanders will play six of their 41 regular-season home games at the Coliseum in the future, after the NEC refurbishes the site.
In a nod to its current venue, and their next one, the Islanders are playing a pre-season game on Wednesday evening, Sept. 24, at the Nassau Coliseum against the Carolina Hurricanes, and then another on Friday night, Sept. 26, at the Barclays Center, versus the New Jersey Devils. The Hurricanes are returning to the Nassau Coliseum for the Islanders’ regular season home opener on Saturday, Oct. 11, at 7 p.m.
Playing without the injured John Tavares, the Islanders’ leading scorer, for the final 22 games of their 2013-2014 season, the Isles finished last in the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division. The squad’s record was 34 wins, 37 losses, and the other 11 games went into overtime.
To bolster the Islanders’ roster, general manager Garth Snow signed in the off-season three key players to four-year contracts: goalie Jaroslav Halak, center Mikhail Grabovski and left wing Nikolai Kulemin. The 29-year-old Halak compiled in 2013-2014 a record of 29 wins, 13 losses, with seven games going into overtime, while posting an impressive goals against average (GAA) for the St. Louis Blues and the Washington Capitals. Grabovski, who is 30, also comes to the Islanders from the Capitals, where he had 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) during the 2013-2014 season. The 28-year-old Kulemin scored at least 20 goals in three of his six seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, a feat accomplished last year by only three Islanders: Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and Frans Nielsen.
The 2014-15 NHL season previews are coming in, and Islanders fans seeking an upbeat assessment of where the Isles are headed should read Steven Macfarlane’s Aug. 24 online column at The Bleacher Report. “When Will Your NHL Team Make a Stanley Cup Run?” is the piece’s title and, in a passage called “What’s Holding Them Back,” Macfarlane cited the Islanders’ defense.
“The defense needs to improve beyond the top trio of Lubomir Visnovsky, Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan, and that means 20-year-old Griffin Reinhart will need to force his way into the lineup to boost the top end,” Macfarlane writes. Reinhart was the Islanders’ first-round selection in 2012’s NHL Draft.
Macfarlane’s analysis concludes, however, on a positive note. “The matchups the forward lines will enjoy after the addition of Grabovski and Kulemin should help the Islanders into the playoffs right away and make them a real threat out of the Eastern Conference in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.”
Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBarry@optonline.net