The days of the Islanders as vagabonds are almost over.
After they play three final home games at Barclays Center in March, the Islanders will be able to call the Coliseum their one and only home until their new arena at Belmont Park opens, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday.
That means any and all home playoff games this year and all 41 home games next season will be played at the Coliseum, the old barn that creates a distinct home-ice advantage for the Islanders.
“We’ve been working to get the Islanders back to Long Island. Why? Because that’s where they belong,” Cuomo said before the Islanders hosted the Bruins at the Coliseum. “The Islanders playing off Long Island just never sat well with me.”
Cuomo said the state invested $6 million in improvements for the Coliseum to satisfy the NHL’s requirements.
“We would not be here today without the energy, the commitment, the efforts of Gov. Cuomo,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “We wouldn’t be here if Belmont wasn’t coming out of the ground. We wouldn’t be here if the improvements weren’t made for this facility so that the Islanders could play here until Belmont is ready.”
The Islanders’ new arena at Belmont Park is expected to open for the 2021-22 season and Cuomo said its construction is on schedule.
The Islanders last played a full season at the Coliseum in 2014-15 before moving to Barclays Center. They played strictly there, in the Brooklyn arena built for basketball, for the next three seasons before beginning to play part-time at the Coliseum again in the 2018-2019 campaign. Their schedule this season includes 28 games at the Coliseum and 13 at Barclays Center.
“Things will be normal. Having two rinks is not normal in the NHL,” said coach Barry Trotz, who has insisted the atmosphere at the Coliseum is worth 10-12 points over the course of a season. “So getting back to normal will be good.”
The NHL allowed the Islanders to play their first-round playoff series at the Coliseum last year, but they had to move to Barclays Center for the second round.
Bettman reiterated Saturday that the Coliseum is “not a major league facility.” It seats just 13,917 compared to Barclays Center’s capacity of 15,795 and does not have nearly as many executive suites.
But Bettman cited the better attendance at the Coliseum and the Islanders’ commitment to making it a “tenable situation” should they advance deep in the playoffs as factors in making Saturday’s announcement.
“Some money was put into upgrading elements of the building, but I also have an understanding with [Islanders co-owner] Scott Malkin that — because we’ll all agree this is not a major-league facility — as an interim facility, if we have to make temporary adjustments, the Islanders will do it,” Bettman said. “For example, if we’re deep into the playoffs — [GM Lou Lamoriello] hates when I talk about that — but if it happens, we may have to erect some temporary facilities in the parking lot to accommodate the media and certain VIP hospitality and make sure our fans are accommodated with food options and restroom facilities. So we’re mindful of the magnitude our events can take on as the season progresses.”