Sports

Isles mull relocation rumors while Rangers set sights on playoffs

by Andrew Marzullo

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Henrik Lundqvist, Mark Messier, Denis Potvin and John Tavares; all names that symbolize the greatness of New York hockey past and present. Arguably the NHL’s fiercest and most personal rivalries play out between the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders.

While they both share the same amount of Stanley Cup Championships with four apiece, the Rangers’ success in recent years has greatly outweighed the Islanders’.

Madison Square Garden is the Mecca of sports, home to the Rangers since 1968. It should come as no surprise that the Garden is sold out every game during the season and that the average price of a ticket is about $100. The Rangers are a perennial Eastern Conference contender, showing no signs of slowing down. The team reached the Stanley Cup Finals three seasons ago and reached the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago after winning the President’s Trophy for attaining the NHL’s best regular season record. This year, the Rangers are contenders again and have stayed hot through the All-Star break.

The Islanders, however, cannot say the same. Though they made the playoffs last year and won their first playoff series in 22 years, they have not been able to live up to their lofty expectations this year. They already fired head coach Jack Capuano and waived former starting goalie Jaroslav Halak, who is now playing in the AHL. Unfortunately for New York hockey, the rivalry that had playoff implications for the past three years is shaping up to be a lot more one-sided this time around.

On top of the on-ice struggles, the team has struggled to attract crowds. The team moved to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center from Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Long Island last year, its first move since their inception in 1972 and attendance has been dismal since. In fact, through its first 10 games, its attendance ranked dead last in the NHL at 12,000 people per game or just 78 percent of the Barclays Center.

Even when the Rangers and Islanders clash in Brooklyn, the Isles struggle to pack in fans for the storied rivalry. The Rangers’ red, white and blue jerseys in the crowd dominate the few blue and orange faithful. All the while, Rangers’ fans overwhelmingly chant “Potvin Sucks” in ridicule of their bitter opponents.

The Isles’ recent woes have provoked Barclays Center management to contemplate evicting its newest tenants. The Islanders’ inability to drive ticket sales has affected the complex’s bottom line, which prompted the idea of ditching the team in favor of concerts and other marquee events.

There has been plenty of backlash against the Barclays Center in recent days, overwhelmingly in support of the Islanders. Many argued that the Barclays Center was ill-equipped as a hockey arena to begin with, supported by many player complaints of poor ice conditions at the complex. In addition, the stadium always gives preference to the Brooklyn Nets basketball team and plans the Isles’ schedule around the other events taking place, giving the team lowest priority against all other events.

The door has closed for a possible relocation to the Coliseum after renovations to the floor plan have essentially rendered hockey an impossibility. There have been discussions with the New York Mets about moving to Queens, closer to the Coliseum and in a more accessible location for the Isles’ Long Island fan base. This would require building a state-of-the-art stadium next to Citi Field, which in theory would attract tourists and crowds to Flushing Meadows, but at a tremendous cost to taxpayers and spelling parking, scheduling and traffic nightmares.

However, the most intriguing rumor involves Hartford, Connecticut, the former home of the Hartford Whalers. The Whalers moved from Hartford to Carolina in 1997 and became the Carolina Hurricanes. The NHL’s return to Hartford would be exciting, yet impractical. The market is extremely small and interest for the Whalers’ return would be shaky. Even as a temporary move, the far distance from Long Island would fail to solve the issue of drawing crowds. The Islanders’ fan base would be completely alienated and even the die-hards would not want travel to Connecticut to see their team play.

No matter what, the Islanders, who were a storied dynasty in the early 1980s, winning 19 consecutive playoff series and four Stanley Cups, need to find an answer and return glory and pride to the New York City hockey rivalry.

The Rangers, however, are well positioned for a playoff run this season, sitting just three games back of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Still, the team must make up ground quickly as the Metropolitan Division becomes a four-team race while playoffs edge closer.

February 13, 2017

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