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The Long Island Vote August 2, 2011

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

Much has been written about the referendum on Long Island, so I’m not going to bore you with the basics which you no doubt know already.

Now, normally, I’m reluctant to get into current events on this blog: it’s not quite on topic, and I’m guaranteed to tick off half my readers no matter what I write. That said, the Islanders vote is a spot where the rink hits the news section, so, what the heck, here goes.

I’m going to start by getting the “tick half the readers off” part over with right now. So: I almost have to wonder if Long Island knows they’ve got a 4-time Stanley Cup champion hockey team playing in their backyard. I also have to wonder if they even noticed that the Atlanta Thrashers just packed up shop and bolted for Winnipeg earlier this summer. And I REALLY have to wonder if they heard the rumblings out of Baltimore not long ago. Baltimore wants to build an 18,000-seat arena, and I’m sure they’d be more than happy to welcome the Islanders to a brand-new rink in Charm City. That might leave Caps Nation in utter chagrin, as Baltimore would be inheriting a 4-time Cup champion, but let’s wait ’til we get out of the desert before we worry about crossing that particular bridge.

But take a look at the AP write-up by way of WNST. There’s a quote from one voter wondering why the Islanders’ owner didn’t pay for it himself. Now look further down: he already did try that, eight years ago, but the project, quote, “failed because of community opposition.” So Islanders owner Charles Wang is in a bit of a pickle: they wouldn’t let him develop the project on his own dime eight years ago, and they still don’t want a new rink for the Islanders now. His team is in an antique of a rink that’s long on cozy, but just a little bit short on fan friendliness. (I’ve been there for a pair of Capitals road games, by the way.) So, that’s twice he’s been told by the community that they don’t want a new building for the Islanders.

Let me get this straight, Long Island. Your team invents the playoff beard, wins four straight Cups, and you’re essentially telling them to hit the bricks? You might want to ask Baltimore about the civic trauma that lingered for years after the Colts’ departure. Ask Quebec City how it felt to lose the Nordiques. Hell, ask a Thrashers fan what he thinks about the Jets, preferably one who’s crying into his fourth consecutive rum and Coke. Losing a team hurts. So if a new rink doesn’t go up, Long Island, and the Islanders leave, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your lives.

Look, I know the Islanders haven’t exactly been an elite team for a while. The Islanders haven’t made the playoffs–for that matter, they haven’t even gotten close–since 2007. That year, they snuck in as the 8 seed, with 92 points, 5 less than the Atlanta Thrashers. They then proceeded to go quietly, in five games, with their one win coming on the road. The Vet hasn’t hosted a playoff victory for the home team since April 28, 2002. Game 6 of the Conference Quarterfinals, that was, against the Maple Leafs, who went on to win Game 7, 4-2. The Islanders haven’t gotten out of the first round since 1993 (at the Capitals’ expense, I might add). A generation has grown up on Long Island that has never seen its hockey team win a playoff series.

But a bad rink is not a good way to attract top talent. It’s not just the Benjamins that hockey players worry about when making contract decisions. The working environment matters, and a building that dates to the Nixon Administration is not exactly a key selling point when you try to attract good talent. Remember how close the Penguins got to moving, before they got a new arena? Long Island, that’s headed your way. And if you handle it the wrong way, you may never get another NHL team. There are more than enough cities who’d be happy to take a relocating NHL team, who’d have much better facilities to offer. And the prospect of the NHL expanding back into a market that, judging by this vote, doesn’t much care for its team, is doubtful at best.

Now, part of the problem–and here’s where I get into the politics of it–is that Long Islanders are being taxed at confiscatory rates. When even the New York Times–not exactly a conservative paper–can print a 2008 article that seems to suggest that taxes are too high on Long Island, then taxes are too high on Long Island. I’m not unsympathetic: tax collectors have been despised since Biblical times for a reason. And if I lived on Long Island, and I didn’t care that much about the Islanders, the prospect of coughing up more money to build them a new arena might not sit so well with me, either. I get that, and I even share that mindset to a degree.

As Washington could tell you, putting the taxpayers on the hook for sports arenas doesn’t always work as advertised. Southeast hasn’t exactly taken off, despite the presence of Nationals Park. Part of the problem there, though, is the generally sucky economy right now, which put a bit of a kibosh on the growth the city was expecting around Nationals Park.

But as Washington could also tell you, a new arena, when it works, can do wonders for the surrounding area. If you’re anywhere near Verizon Center in the hours before a Capitals game, you’d be amazed at how much red you’d see being worn. That part of DC wasn’t exactly the nicest part of town when Verizon Center opened; these days, even the fast food joints in that neck of the woods are practically ten bucks to get in the door.

There’s really no easy answer to the arena question on Long Island. Is keeping a dynasty team worth more money than they’re paying now? The folks who showed up to vote didn’t seem to think so, and well, if that’s what the people think, that needs to be respected. (I’d take a gratuitous swipe at Congress here, but that’s what it would be–gratuitous.)

Still and all, I do have to wonder if the voters gave any consideration to the thought that they might be voting to sign their NHL team’s death warrant. Bossy…Nystrom…Trottier…Arbour…there’s an awful lot of hockey history on Long Island, and it would be a shame if the team that represented that history were to just go away.

One can only hope that a new way forward is found in the time the Islanders have left at The Vet.




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