On September 23, the Islanders officially broke ground on their new Belmont Park Arena.
On February 29th, just after Butch Goring’s #91, was retired to “The Toy Department,” the team announced with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that all 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs home games and the entire 2020-21 season would be played exclusively at NYCB Live: Home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
12 days later, the sports world shuts down due to COVID-19.
On June 16th, Bloomberg reports Onexim Sports and Entertainment, which holds the Lease to the Coliseum, was “shuttering the building” like everyone else.
On July 8th, Nassau County issued a Notice of Default to Onexim Sports and Entertainment over $2 million in unpaid rent, hoping to bring the company to the table to discuss the property’s future.
Newsday has reported that the Islanders are likely to return to Barclays Center for the 2020-21 season if the Coliseum does not reopen. Multiple sources have confirmed that the Islanders’ new lease agreement between the Coliseum and Barclays Center prohibits them from playing any more games in Brooklyn after the 2019-20 season. March 22nd against Carolina should have been the final Islanders’ home game and the team did have something special planned for that night.
Nassau County’s Notice of Default also gave Onexim fifteen days to respond and pay their debts, otherwise the County would look to terminate the lease. County Executive Laura Curran has repeatedly said the Islanders will play next season in Nassau County. If the County terminates the lease, they need to find someone that can take over. When the Coliseum reopened after its $160 million renovation, AEG was involved in managing the building.
Onexim also had a deal in place with RXR Realty which is a major real estate landlord in the New York City market. RXR owns several office buildings within the vicinity of the Coliseum and was expecting to be an important piece in the development of the Nassau Hub. RXR does not manage any sports venues or theaters at this time.
Although the Islanders did establish New York Arena Partners with OakView Group and the New York Mets, it is not likely that NYAP will take over the Coliseum lease. However, OakView Group has reportedly expressed interest in taking over the lease, but not the $100 million debt.
There is no question that the Islanders will be in the New York City market for the 2020-21 season. Nassau County is confident that the Islanders will play at the Coliseum, but the team has to keep their options well open.
Barclays Center is out of the question, although 2020 might not be done with its surprises.
Sharing Madison Square Garden with the New York Rangers is unlikely to happen as the 2020-21 NHL and NBA schedules are expected to be so condensed, so finding the right balance would be rather difficult. This still would keep the Islanders in New York and allow for the team to learn more about operating its own building as several former Madison Square Garden executives have joined NYAP to run Belmont Park Arena. The Islanders would also be able to make more money off premium seating at the Garden than they would at the Coliseum. Additionally, with MSG seen as a tourist trap to many New Yorkers, it would help bring additional attention to the franchise.
Prudential Center is a reasonable option since the building is one of the few hockey-first facilities in the market. Only a 20-minute train ride from Manhattan, it is close enough to allow for Islander fans to still attend games. Scheduling would not be hard either, as the arena only has to juggle hockey with college basketball, who has limited games to begin with. Doubleheaders with the Devils are possible with morning skates that can be held on the attached practice rink.
Some have thrown Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport into the mix. The AHL Sound Tigers’ lease expires at the end of the 2020-21 season and the city itself has too many issues of their own.
Northwell Health Ice Center will host the new Long Island University Sharks men’s ice hockey team for the 2020-21 season. The rink was originally going to serve as the home rink of the New York Riveters of the NWHL before it declared bankruptcy and the Riveters went to Brooklyn and then moved to New Jersey and became the Metropolitan Riveters. The Islanders have their own campus at Northwell, complete with all the necessary facilities.
The team is contracted to hold two scrimmages annually at the rink with Nassau County, although that obligation is likely to be waived due to COVID-19. The practice facility is no stranger to hosting visiting teams for practices and scrimmages and regularly sees other franchise send their youth-sponsored teams for tournaments. If fans are not allowed to attend games, this would be the ideal solution if the Coliseum is not available.
Finally, the most unlikely scenario would be to have the Islanders turn into the road warriors, playing all home games on the road in their opponent’s building. This would be the absolute worst-case scenario, but would likely drive up attendance and eyeballs. However, that does not make playing for the team attractive at all.