The Islanders are not going anywhere … yet. Owner Charles Wang, who has been blocked repeatedly in his efforts to replace Nassau Coliseum with a large-scale development project that includes a new arena, said yesterday that the team will not leave before the end of its current lease in 2015. But added (via Chris Botta) that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman once told him that “an expiring lease is your best asset.”
While they may be in place through the next five seasons, relocation is not entirely off the table. Wang was quoted in the New York Post as saying the team will “explore every option” as it continues to push for a needed new arena. The Islanders have been fingered in relocation rumors for several years, with Wang previously hinting he could move the franchise if his development plan does not come to fruition.
With no progress on a new arena, it looks like the Islanders are stuck in the aging Coliseum, named the worst sports venue by fans in ESPN The Magazine’s Ultimate Standings for two years running.
One thing that could dress up the place, however, is the addition of young talent.
The Islanders signed their 2010 top draft pick, LW Nino Niederreiter, to a three-year entry-level contract Tuesday. The No. 5 overall pick in June, Niederreiter’s deal adds to the momentum building for him to begin his pro career in the NHL. The highest-drafted Swiss player ever, Niederreiter had 36 goals and 24 assists last season for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, who congratulated him yesterday in statement carried by the Oregonian.
Niederreiter could still return to the Winterhawks should he play no more than nine games with the Islanders. The coming preseason games, starting Sept. 29, should decide whether or not he'll remain on the top roster, according to comments by head coach Scott Gordon at yesterday’s press conference.
“At the end of the day, how is he going to compete against men? That is an adjustment for anybody, but certainly when you’re 6-foot-1, 200 [pounds], that’s going to be a big advantage,” Gordon said. “Hopefully it will play out and work for everybody.”
Shortly after the draft, ESPN junior hockey guru Gare Joyce wrote that Niederreiter was among a handful of prospects with enough talent to break camp with the big club (Insider).
According to NYI Point Blank, GM Garth Snow said the team has the resources to spend should a top player become available before or during the season. The Isles have the lowest payroll in the NHL and are currently $19 million below the cap ceiling, so yeah, they have some flexibility.
A little ways down in that post, Snow was asked if the Coliseum’s poor facilities affected his ability to sign free agents this summer. He responded: “If you can stay at the Ritz-Carlton or a motor lodge, what do you expect?”
You can watch the Islanders’ press conference from yesterday’s media day on the team’s official site.