(Long Island, NY) Throughout the history of professional sports, franchises have picked up and moved to different cities regularly. Perhaps the most famous – and heartbreaking – one was the Brooklyn Dodgers. When Walter O’Malley relocated ‘Dem Bums’ from the Borough of Churches to glitzy Los Angeles, it was looked at so angrily that a funny joke was started because of the former Dodgers owner:
“If you have two bullets in a gun and Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin and Walter O’Malley are in the room, what do you do?”
“Shoot O’Malley twice.”
With the recent talk of a possible Islanders move to Kansas City, owner Charles Wang has to hope that he doesn’t become the punch line of a similar joke, albeit it a modern version with Sadam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden taking the places of Hitler and Stalin.
Although that was baseball in the 1950s and this is modern day hockey, there are actually some similarities between the two situations. Ebbets Field, the ballpark that housed the Dodgers since it was opened in 1913, was terribly antiquated and its seating capacity (upgraded to 32,000 from 25,000 in 1932) considered small for the 1950s. There was also the issue with a lack of parking at the ballpark. When it was built, that was not something thought about, but as the years went on, it became a legitimate problem.
O’Malley proposed a location for a new stadium that he would build with his own money. All he wanted was the land for free from New York City. The area in downtown Brooklyn where the new Nets arena project is slated for was what O’Malley had his eye on, and even stated that it’s close proximity to the Long Island Rail Road station would be a plus for transplanted Brooklynites who moved out east attending Dodger games.
The city offered O’Malley a parcel of land in Flushing, Queens that eventually housed Shea Stadium. The Dodgers in Queens? O’Malley thought the idea was preposterous and when he declined, he took an offer that he couldn’t refuse, which, of course, was going to California.
Wang may have an offer that he will find hard to refuse, especially in light of Nassau County’s reluctance to change their stance on the Lighthouse Project. The politicians have agreed to refurbish the falling-apart Nassau Coliseum, but feel as if the entire plan would be too expensive.
Built in 1972 for the expansion Islanders, this venue has seen better days, in both a literal and figurative sense. Of course during the dynasty era when the Isles won four consecutive Stanley Cups (1980-1983), hearing talk of a move would have seemed completely insane. But that was long ago and times – and the team – are very different now.
Numerous losing campaigns filled with questionable moves have become commonplace in Uniondale. The entire Mike Milbury saga, the 15-year contract for goalie Rick DiPietro (who is out for the season with a knee injury), the hiring and quick firing of head coach Ted Nolan, the hiring and quicker firing of general manager Neil Smith, the signing of Alexi Yashin and plenty more.
Wang has tried other ideas in the past; even flirting with the possibility of moving the team to Suffolk County if an arena could be built for them.
This situation will eventually come to a head, if that hasn’t already happened. The Islanders have scheduled an exhibition game in September versus the Los Angeles Kings in Kansas City. The same town that spawned the New Jersey Devils (who began as the Kansas City Scouts and moved to Colorado before settling in the Garden State) wants another shot at the NHL. While this can be viewed as an innocent neutral site game, whispers are that there is some posturing by Wang going on.
“According to league sources this game could be perceived as a veiled threat of potential relocation if plans for a new arena on Long Island aren’t soon finalized,” as stated by Darren Dreger of TSN.
Islanders’ general manager Garth Snow refuted that report. “I’m not worried about (the perception),” he told reporters. “It’s a preseason game. The last few years, and even before I became GM, we always played preseason games in different markets.”
The venue known as the Sprint Center was built in Kansas City with the impression that a hockey team would eventually call it home. The recent Britney Spears concert held there was not the reason why that building stands today. With NHL commissioner Gary Betman stating that there will be no expansion teams in the foreseeable future means an established franchise may have the need for their mail to be forwarded.
If you look throughout the NHL, the Islanders are not the only shaky team, with Nashville, Carolina, Phoenix and Atlanta also being mentioned as having problems. But as far as old arenas go, the Islanders have to be viewed as the most likely to move.
And if that becomes a reality, it will be no laughing matter.