From the Broken Lighthouse Project to Breaking the Penguins
“Kansas City, home of the Islanders.”
“Seattle, home of the Islanders.”
“Hartford, home of the Islanders.”
“Quebec, home of the Islanders.”
Nassau Coliseum, not home of the Islanders.
It is 2009, and that is all we know of the Islanders future.
Charles Wang, the embattled owner of the Islanders was still in the midst of his hopeless fight to keep the Islanders on the island. The only team with 4 consecutive championships and an incredible legacy of legends was in danger of having to move, stuck in the once modern, now fossilized Nassau Memorial Coliseum.
Wang, as early as 2007 had commissioned a way to solve the issue of having the NHL’s smallest arena (only passed recently by the Winnipeg Jets’ MTS Centre) and keep the Islanders at home. It was called the Lighthouse Project, a 3.7 billion dollar project hoping to transform the area surrounding the existing arena into an area of hotels, offices, restaurants, stores, athletic complexes, and most importantly, a renovated Nassau Coliseum, suitable for the modern age of arenas.
It was a stunning and ambitious plan that would take almost a decade to finish, but would provide 17,000 jobs in a recession, add money to the county for the future, and most importantly, keep the sports identity in place.
The country, though, did not agree with the proposal, pointing to the further taxing of their population, traffic and construction, and other obstacles that would make it impossible.
It was here, in February 2009, that Charles Wang announced the writing was on the wall and the Islanders would have to start looking at relocation. Would the Islanders move to the new sports complex the Mets were building in Flushing? Would they allow for a long-awaited return of a team to Quebec, Hartford, or Seattle? Would the newly opened Sprint Center in Kansas City be too good to say no to?
One thing was for sure – suddenly there were a ton of options on the table – and the hope of keeping the 3rd of New York’s Tri-State area teams was slipping away.
These were darkest days of the Islanders franchise…
But we have not even talked about the actual team.
In 2009, after almost two decades of lacking any real championship hopes for their team – right in the midst of relocation talks and the shallowest organizational depth the franchise had ever seen thanks to departed GM, Mike Milbury – a light shown through.
It was the sight of hope.
The Islanders won the draft lottery the first pick of the 2009 entry draft. With that pick, the Isles would have the honor of drafting what most hockey analysts projected to be a sure-thing superstar – John Tavares.
That, he was.
He was up with the main club that year and scored a game winner in one of this first games, on October 21st. Suddenly the Islanders, at the very least, had a budding star they could call their own. He excited the fans – there was one of the highest season ticket retention in years – and soon the team itself would show signs of improvement.
After the firing of coach Scott Gordon in 2010, they replaced him with now-head coach, Jack Capuano.
Future top players started to rise. Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo would rise to the main club and have several strong seasons.
Matt Moulson would blast onto the scene with 3 consecutive 30-goal seasons.
They would pick up Michael Grabner off waivers, an afterthought on the 2009-10 Canucks team, and would experience his growth as a speedster, playmaker, and 50-point scorer.
Most importantly, John Tavares was not just the star Long Islanders prayed for, he was becoming one of the best players in hockey, period.
Suddenly, the Islanders had a foundation, even as their physical foundation in Long Island was crumbling.
Then came the answer.
The New Jersey Nets were bought by Russian Billionaire, Mikhail Prokhorov, in 2009, and plans for a new arena and move to Brooklyn were completed.
With a new arena being built, one lacking a hockey tenant, the deal was ready to be made.
On October 24th, 2012, Wang and Prokhorov announced that as of 2015-16 (the end of the Islanders lease in Nassau), the Islanders were moving to Brooklyn to play at the new Barclays Center.
Technically “staying” on the island (even as a New York City Borough, Brooklyn is located on the West end of the actual Long Island), this was the best option for the Islanders and even though it hurt the furthest Islanders fans in Suffolk County, it helped raise the optimism for Islanders fans around New York – their team was staying.
Behind former Vezina winner, Evgeni Nabokov, the Islanders finally found some consistency in net.
John Tavares, was blasting the light of his star across the NHL, leading talks of a possible Islanders MVP for the first time since the 80’s.
The table was set, and along with the addition of Brad Boyes and his 35 points, the Islanders were able to ride their maturing offensive stars to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Today, they stand at a turning point for their franchise. Facing the #1 seed Pittsburgh Penguins, the Islanders have managed to defy expectations and tie the series at 2-2. Many projected this series to be a sweep – now, a league-trembling event could occur should the upstart Islanders eliminate Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and the rest of the veteran Penguins.
Marc-Andre Fleury, a shell of his Stanley Cup-winning self has given up 40 goals in his last 10 playoff games and will be replaced by backup Tomas Vokoun. The city of Pittsburgh, once confident in yet another Cup-run, are living in fear. It is a best-of-3 from here.
For the first time in decades, things are going the Islanders way.
Will they do the impossible?