The New York Islanders are becoming the NHL’s biggest free agent.
Frustrated with a lack of a decision by local government to approve or reject a major developmental plan that would provide the Islanders with a new, refurbished arena, club owner Charles Wang said Saturday he will explore all other options—including relocation.
“There is (a chance) and that is very, very sad because this is somebody who wants to do something good for Long Island,” Wang said before the Islanders hosted the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in New York’s season opener.
Wang has been trying for eight years to build the Lighthouse Project, an ambitious venture that would create a mega-destination spot on Long Island and give the Islanders a venue to replace antiquated Nassau Coliseum.
Wang had set a deadline for Saturday to get an answer from the Town of Hempstead—and specifically supervisor Kate Murray. Wang received a call from Murray on Friday, but was told she wasn’t prepared to give him an answer over the phone.
Wang agreed to talk to Murray during the upcoming week, but stated strongly that the time for negotiations has ended.
“What I want to do is keep the team here,” Wang said. “Long Island needs the Islanders. It’s crazy what’s going on, the gamesmanship. Now you’ve really got to decide, yes or no. If it’s no, it’s OK. Say it then.
“It’s not what I want, but it isn’t like people are giving me great choices.”
Wang said he told Murray that he didn’t want details of their phone conversation to be made public, and was greatly dismayed when he read about it in the newspaper. He said that created trust issues for him toward Murray.
“I don’t want to say you can’t (trust her), but it’s difficult,” Wang said. “It’s sad that it comes to this.”
No potential destinations have been discussed, and Wang didn’t say if he has given thought to selling the franchise, that won four straight Stanley Cup titles in the 1980s.
The Islanders played a preseason game a few weeks ago in Kansas City, which is known to crave an NHL team for a new arena that was built there.
“He has to consider all options, but as I understand it his options are to see first and foremost what he can do about the arena situation,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who was in attendance. “We really haven’t explored in any meaningful way beyond that. His goal would be to keep the team on Long Island.
“Obviously everybody wants the decision that lets this project go forward and lets the fans and the people on Long Island know that there will be a newer, renovated arena here. In the absence of that, let’s put out efforts somewhere else if it’s not going to be a reality. Lack of a decision after all this time to me is inexplicable.”
Before the opening ceremonial faceoff, a promotional video was shown to the sold-out crowd touting the Lighthouse Project. Several fans throughout the game held up signs in support of the plan, including several that said, “Long Island needs an answer Kate.”
“For two years now we have been working and we’ve said, ‘Here’s what it is,”’ Wang said of his developmental plan “Two years ago I said, ‘Tell me yes or tell me no. If it’s no, tell me what you want and then I can tell you what I can or cannot do.’ So, what happened? Two years go by, and we’re going to meet now to talk about negotiation? No. I don’t know what she is going to say or what she wants.
“When you do a business and you want somebody to stay and you want them to do something, you woo them, you work with them and you make it happen,” Wang said. “Nobody can tell me that has happened with the Town of Hempstead.”