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Jim Cerny's Rink Rap


September 23, 2009 8:12 PM

Clouds Hang Over Tavares' Home Debut for Isles



This is the night Islanders fans have been waiting for ever since the club selected its next savior, high-scoring forward John Tavares, with the first overall pick in June's NHL Entry Draft. In fact, this is the night the diehards have been salivating over since the Isles won the draft lottery.

Tonight, John Tavares dons the home blue jersey and skates in his first game---albeit a pre-season one---in front of the hometown faithful at the Nassau Coliseum following training camp in Saskatoon.

It should be a happy occasion for these fans, who have been mercilessly beaten down with on-ice foibles and off-ice turmoil the past 15 years or so. Tavares' home debut should signal that there is a bright light at the end of a long dark tunnel.

Unfortunately that bright light, as Islanders fans have been reminded over and over again through the years, could very well be an oncoming locomotive headed the wrong way on the same track.

You see, just 24 hours prior to JT's maiden game at the Coliseum, Islanders owner Charles Wang was taking part in a 12-hour marathon of a public hearing regarding his Lighthouse Project, which calls for a much-needed new arena for his team---along with several billion dollars worth of other devlopment. And by most accounts, including this one from Chris Botta over at Fanhouse, it was a rough go for Mr. Wang and his Lighthouse Project.

After the hearing, Wang reiterated his October 3rd deadline for certainty that the Town of Hempstead would be willing to green light the massive Lighthouse undertaking.

That ain't happening. Too many questions. Too little time. Not enough negotiating from both sides.

"It's time for Lighthouse to push the panic button," BD Gallof, creator of HockeyIndependent.com and longtime blogger on all things Islanders, told me this morning. "Charles Wang's only leverage is that October 3rd date, and really what kind of leverage is that?"

Perhaps Wang would have had more leverage if the Isles pre-season game in Kansas City---which also took place on Tuesday night---did not play to a half-empty house. Had there been a sellout---or at the very least, a good-sized crowd---Wang could have pointed out that if he doesn't get his Lighthouse Project approved, then he'd be willing to move or sell his team to Kansas City, a market with a brand-new arena already in place.

If that was Wang's orginal plan when the pre-season game in Kansas City was scheduled, then let's just say things did not play out the way he wanted.

Pierre LeBrun at espn.com takes a closer look at the failed outing in Kansas City last night, and concludes that KC is not the hockey market Long Island is. Now that's saying something.

So circling back, what exactly are Wang's options? He is holding firm to an "all or nothing"---as Gallof refers to it---non-negotiable take on his enormous development project. It's not just the arena he wants. Wang wants the hotels, retail, etc. to transform the area by Hempstead Turnpike, as well. But without a real threat to leave---OK, perhaps Jim Balsillie could offer to take the team off Wang's hands and move it to Hamilton---Wang lacks the leverage to get the whole enchilada.

There has been talk of the Isles considering a move to Brooklyn, where the New Jersey Nets basketball team plans to move into a still-to-be-built-or-even-approved arena. But in Gallof's opinion, "Brooklyn is not an option. There are so many holes though that, not the least of which is the demographic."

The one thing that could be mutually acceptable to both Wang and the Town of Hempstead is a refurbishing of the antiquated Nassau Coliseum, though who would pay for what would also be hotly debated. There has actually been discussion about refurbishing the old barn in Nassau, one that would add the necessary suites and other popular amenities to suit Wang, though it might take upwards of two or three years to complete.

The bottom line here, though, is that, yet again, Islanders fans can not enjoy the moment without worrying what about is around the corner. Yay, Tavares is here! Ugh, the Islanders may be skipping town!

It has been this way really for the past decade or so, ever since one Islanders owner after another has tried to figure out how to land a new arena to stop the financial bleeding that, reportedly, costs Wang about $20 million annually.

"The past 15 years have been excruciating for the Islander fan," stated Gallof, who does provide some optimism on his blog in that top Town of Hempstead officials have told him they expect a new arena to be built...at some point.

"These fans are just tired of it all. They are damaged by it."

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