Islanders have base to be great, says Tonelli

With news last week that New York Islanders team owner Charles Wang was selling a majority ownership of the franchise, there are plenty of changes in store.

A group led by Jon Ledecky and London-based investor Scott Malkin has purchased a minority share in the team, with that stake slated to become a majority ownership in just two years, pending approval of the NHL board of governors.

But first, the team will bid farewell to Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Islanders will call Brooklyn’s state-of-the-art Barclays Center home beginning in the 2015-16 season.

“I'm pretty excited about it. I’ve never run a hockey team or owned a hockey team ... but I can only imagine how difficult it is to do that and try to do it under circumstances that the owner has to deal with as far as the building,” former Islanders great John Tonelli told ESPN.com when reached by phone last week.

And though Tonelli does not lack in nostalgia for the aging old barn, he is excited fans will finally get to enjoy a modern facility.

“As much as it brings a lot of great memories back to me -- the way the building was, the great environment it was to walk into, it was pretty special -- but hey, things change and things need to get upgraded,” he said.

Tonelli, who now works for a title insurance company in New York City, said there were a few times he had clients interested in kicking the tires on an ownership stake with the Islanders, but each time that avenue was explored, the team was not up for sale.

Now that a new ownership group is in place and a new locale is on the near horizon, he’s eagerly anticipating a new era for the Isles.

Tonelli, 57, said he’s looking forward to the shortened commute to games next season. He’s happy to see a zealous and loyal fan base finally rewarded with state-of-the-art digs, and he’s glad the team made some important offseason moves to bolster the roster.

Tonelli, a forward who won four Stanley Cup championships with the Islanders, thinks the addition of goalie Jaroslav Halak and backup Chad Johnson could be huge as they try to make it back to the playoffs after a disappointing last-place finish in the Eastern Conference last season.

“I think they made a great move getting some goaltending help. It’s tough for one guy to carry the load and it always helps when you bring in another guy,” said Tonelli, who played in front of the legendary Billy Smith during the Isles’ dynasty days. “Goaltending seems to be the key . . . it starts from there, taking care of your own end.”

And dynamic young center John Tavares gives the Islanders an electrifying element.

“He’s just such a pleasure to watch,” Tonelli said. “You know, he’s exciting to watch and he wants to lead by example. He wants to be there. He wants to see the Islanders become a great team. As a former player for the Islanders organization, that’s what it’s all about. We all want it to be there. We all wanted to be part of a great team. I see that in [Tavares].”

With Tavares’ potential “unlimited,” according to Tonelli, all he needs is the right players around him to complement his stunning skill set.

The team has some strong components and promising young players, Tonelli said. Now, it’s just a matter of filling in the gaps. The Islanders signed both Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin in free agency in July.

“It seems like they have a starting base to really create a very good team going forward,” Tonelli said. “It's a little tweaking here and there of filling in with the right chemistry that can help that core group.”