UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky stood in front of a group of reporters and recalled a memory he had from attending the wedding of Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis’ son.
Ledecky was sitting at the same table as Capitals star Alex Ovechkin and the conversation turned to hockey and the Nassau Coliseum. That’s when Ovechkin uttered a surprise statement about the Islanders former home.
“He said to me his favorite building was the Nassau Coliseum,” Ledecky recounted. “I said, why is that? He said, ‘when I play here in the playoffs, and we played you in the playoffs a couple of years ago, I felt the energy of this place. It was an advantage for you. It was your seventh man and Jon I’ve never been in a louder building in my entire NHL career.'”
It’s a reaction like that which has the Islanders co-owner believing that playing at the Nassau Coliseum and the Barclays Center for the next three seasons will be an advantage for attracting free agents. The comments came following a press conference at the Nassau Coliseum to announce the deal that would bring the Islanders back to their former home for 60 games over the next three years while their new home rink is constructed at Belmont Park.
The deal between the Islanders and Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which was facilitated by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, will have the Islanders play 12 games next season at the renovated Coliseum. They will then split their home schedule between the Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center the following two seasons.
Before the Islanders vacated the Coliseum after the 2014-15 season, the arena had been one of the oldest in the NHL. However, the history and atmosphere of the place are what Ledecky hopes draws in potential free agent signings, rather than scares them away.
“I think this is going to be a very positive point for free agents, who are going to be into the tradition of this building,” he said. “There is so much great history here and re-embracing our alumni… I think it’s going to be a wonderful way to embrace Islander history, but to set the Islanders for the future in a third generation, 21st century really built arena at Belmont Park.”
While it is unclear just how much free agents will buy into the split home schedule, the Islanders are hoping that at least one potential free agent is happy with the arrangement. That, of course, being team captain John Tavares.
Tavares was on hand for the announcement at the Nassau Coliseum, just as he was for the arena press conference at Belmont Park last month. Where the Islanders will play their home games is one factor that Tavares is weighing when deciding whether or not to re-sign with the team, but it isn’t the only factor.
“Everything that goes into my daily life will impact my decision,” Tavares said. “I think I’ve said in the past, the Islanders belong on Long Island. Belmont is obviously great news for the team. I think playing at the Coliseum is great news. We did it for over 40 years. I did it for six or seven (years). This is a great place.”
Some of the greatest moments in Tavares’ career occurred at the Nassau Coliseum. He scored his first NHL goal at the venue and had several memorable playoff goals during the team’s time in Uniondale.
Tavares even scored the game-winning goal during the Islanders preseason game against the Philadelphia Flyers in September. And while some have been concerned that the unusual arrangement that the Islanders will have going forward might be a negative for Tavares, on the surface it didn’t appear that he minded one bit.
“I had so much fun playing here,” Tavares said. “It’s such a big part of the history of this organization and a chance to make some more here. It’s really just with the development at Belmont, obviously what that’s going to mean to the franchise long-term. And on a short-term basis being able to come back somewhere where the heart of the franchise is.”