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Taub: With Belmont Secured, Everything Changes

The New York Islanders have made minimal significant changes on the ice this offseason. It’s off the ice where they have finally got some much-needed clarity.

Following Tuesday’s successful meeting of the Franchise Oversight Board in Albany, the Isles and New York Arena Partners (NYAP) have crossed through all the avenues needed to officially get work started on their future permanent home and overall redevelopment of the Belmont Park property. Some prep work has already begun at the site yesterday according to horseraceinsider.com’s Mark Berner. And all that’s left is dotting the T’s and crossing the I’s — signing of the lease and permits — according to Newsday’s Jim Baumbach.

Islanders ownership — Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin — with the assistance of former team owner, the late Charles Wang, first hatched the plan for a new arena at Belmont just over three years ago. It came amid rumblings that the team’s current home, Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, was looking for a way to get out of the 25-year “ironclad” deal they agreed to with the organization. Wang signed that contract in September 2012 after two failed attempts to secure the franchise an arena in Nassau County — the Lighthouse Project and Referendum Project. Moving the team to Brooklyn ended up being Wang’s last-ditch attempt to keep the team from moving out of the New York area.

The Islanders moved into Barclays before the start of the 2015-16 season and have had an up-and-down — mostly down — relationship, despite more modern amenities. Fans and players have voiced their displeasures for years that the building has never felt like their own.

“It’s a hockey arena here,” said Islander fan Peter Rotolo to the Associated Press’ Vin Cherwoo back in January at Nassau Coliseum. “Barclays is like, the sightlines are terrible, the seats are terrible. It’s a beautiful arena, but it’s a basketball arena and a concert arena. It never was made for hockey.”

In December 2017, Ledecky and Malkin were awarded the rights to build the team’s future home and the surrounding areas by Governor Cuomo. A sigh of relief and a jolt of excitement could be felt throughout the organization and fan base. The moment was also a monumental victory for a franchise that for two-plus decades their arena situation was handled like a political football, screamed uncertainty and was the punchline of many jokes.

That brings us today, and while everything left regarding the process is a formality at this point, there’s already been a major shift for the franchise moving forward.

The fans can finally take a deep breath. 

Isles fans have been clamoring for the team to have a new building for what seems like forever. With the work now underway, no longer do those fans — and there is still a small portion who won’t believe the building is happening until a shovel is in the ground — have to feel that angst they’ve been accustomed to when it involves the organization’s future long term. Ownership has never wavered in their belief that this project wouldn’t come to fruition and they’ve been engaging and forthcoming with the fans since the start. The team’s next generation of fans will now have a beautiful arena to call their own, not playing second-fiddle to another tenant. They’ll also have a place that they feel welcomed in and is a representation of them and all their passion and dedication.

The players, both current and future, now have an affirmation of where they’ll be playing. 

Even though the building is not set to open until the 2021-22 season, the back-and-forth between Uniondale and Brooklyn will become a distant memory. There won’t need to be any more discussion or quotes about having to play in one building instead of the other and having to create their own atmosphere and home-ice advantage. And there also won’t be any more need for players to turn a blind eye to the organization.

That takes us to our last point — The Islanders become a destination.

Perhaps the news of Belmont becoming reality shortly is no more crucial than for the reason above. Once that shovel is in the ground, the Islanders instantly take a huge leap forward in being able to sell both the franchise and Long Island as the place to be. For the longest time, many experts and critics have claimed that the organization has never been an attractive place for free agents and trade acquisitions, even though most players that do come here fall in love with the area. As the arena is constructed and when it’s finally finished, general manager Lou Lamoriello, head coach Barry Trotz and ownership will now have a reason, and vice versa, for those players to want to play for the organization.

There hasn’t been this much excitement about the Isles in a long time.

Aside from Lamoriello and Trotz taking hold of the organization and the team’s unprecedented 103-point season last year, the days of winning and sunshine have been few and far between. But having confirmation that a new building will rise soon means that the times are drastically changing for the franchise.

The Islanders have a home. Next stop: Belmont.

Follow me on Twitter @RTaub_

About Rob Taub

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