Hockey in the New York metropolitan area is unique when you consider it is the only market to house three NHL teams.
Kevin Weekes and Mike Mottau have played for all three -- the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils. They know how crucial it is that Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is replaced with a state-of-the-art facility.
With just two weeks remaining until the Aug. 1 referendum in Nassau County, Weekes and Mottau are hopeful that county residents will vote in favor of borrowing the $350 million required to put toward a new home for the Islanders.
|Mike Mottau #10 of the New York Islanders moves up ice during a hockey game against the Florida Panthers at the Nassau Coliseum on November 20, 2010 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images) |
Should the majority of residents vote against a new building, the possibility exists that the Islanders could leave the Coliseum when their lease with Nassau County expires in 2015. No more Islanders means no more Islanders-Rangers or Islanders-Devils -- two of the League's most intense rivalries.
"Playing for all three teams, I've had the opportunity to experience it from all three sides," said Mottau, who is entering the final season of the two-year deal he signed with the Isles last fall. "This past year being on the Island, there's such a great fan base there, and they have passion, just like the other two cities. It'd just be a disappointing loss, not only for the area but for the League. The rivalry and the way the teams and the fans are connected, it's pretty special, especially when you see it from a player's point of view."
Mottau appeared in 19 games for the Rangers between 2000 and 2002 and played three full seasons in New Jersey (2007-2010). He admitted the intensity level goes into overdrive when the teams face each other -- especially Islanders-Rangers, a rivalry that was born almost 40 years ago.
"It's unique," Mottau said. "As a player, it's nice because we feed off the fans. You might know guys on the other team and you might be friends away from the rink, but the fans really ignite the whole rivalry. That's the most exciting part. They have the passion that we feel as we play. But it gets stepped up in those games because of the proximity."
Weekes only played one season for the Islanders, but he remembers it vividly.
During that 1999-2000 season, he lived across the street from the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Marriott. Every day he took the short walk to his home rink for practice or a game. And every day, he saw one passionate fan who would stop him for a brief chat.
"I don't know he got out of school," Weekes joked with NHL.com. "I just saw him in Las Vegas. He's about 6-foot-3, 240 pounds and now he's looking down on me. He's a huge hockey fan and a huge Islander fan. It just goes to show how passionate the fans are there."
The Islanders finished with only 58 points in Weekes' lone season on Long Island and were outscored 275-194. While the current version has gone four straight seasons without a playoff spot, Weekes is fond of the Isles' young core, which includes the likes of John Tavares
, Michael Grabner
and Kyle Okposo
"It's unique … I think it's a great place to play," Weekes said of Long Island. "It's a very affluent community in many ways, but I think it kind of reflects New York. It's pretty multi-cultural. You've got people from all different denominations. Most importantly, a lot of people there love the game and there's a lot of history there. You have different generations of Islanders fans, which I think is really cool. They're definitely hungry for a good team there.
"It's kind of unique when you're playing for the Islanders. I think history's kind of repeated itself. A lot of those young guys that are there now are in the same situation that we were in -- guys like Roberto Luongo, Dave Scatchard, Billy Muckalt, Brad Isbister -- many of them went on to play a long time in the League. I think a lot of the core pieces that they have in place right now have the potential to do that as well. The ownership is certainly solidified with Charles Wang being as invested as he is and being as passionate as he is. The key is to complement some of those good young players with some quality veterans to help them grow."
The free-agent market hasn't allowed the Islanders to sign those quality veterans, and much of that has to do with the current state of the Coliseum. As Isles GM Garth Snow once told NHL.com, "If you have a chance to stay at a Ritz-Carlton for the same dollar value as a motor lodge, what are you going to select? It does have an effect on luring free agents."
Nassau County residents can help change that in two weeks' time. Mottau admitted to NHL.com the referendum has weighed on some of the players over the past couple of months.
"I've chatted with a few guys," Mottau said. "I stuck around because I have a son in kindergarten and I was able to get to a rally and speak on behalf of the team and what it would mean from a player's point of view. I think it's extremely important moving forward for the organization. We have a great group of young players that the team is built around right now, but I think to put us over the top, you have to be able to attract some top-tier free agents. A new building would allow us to do that.
|Kevin Weekes of the NHL Network broadcasting team is seen prior to start of Game Four of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Finals between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks at TD Garden on June 8, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images) |
"It's a beautiful place to live and raise a family, but it gets lost by a visiting player when you come in to play the Islanders."
Weekes told NHL.com that another reason why the Islanders have difficulty attracting free agents is because of the fact that visiting players don't get to see the major benefits of Long Island when they're in town. When you combine that with the Islanders' recent struggles on the ice, it creates a negative impact on Snow's chances of signing a marquee player.
"Players don't get a chance to get out to the beach," said Weekes, now an analyst for NHL Network. "They don't get a chance to experience different parts of Long Island. The bus pulls up to the Marriott or the Garden City Hotel and you go to the Coliseum. That does impact it. But I think that if they now catapult from where they are and make some traction and start moving up the rankings and you give a guy a chance to get to know the area and get to see Long Island in its entirety, I think you'd be surprised to see how many guys would entertain going there. But they just have to be educated on it.
"You almost have to win to get on the map if you're the Devils or the Islanders. The Devils have created that history and that mystique and they've earned that right to be recognized in the area. The Islanders have to get their footprint back to where it could be. They're going to have to get back to winning. I think they need to push and try to get into the playoffs in spite of the fact that they're a young team."
Should the residents of Nassau County vote in favor of a new facility, it still would need to be approved by the county legislature (a supermajority of 13 votes will be required) and the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) -- two major hurdles. If all parties approve, a new facility would create more than 1,500 construction jobs for an economy that desperately needs a jumpstart.
If it's not approved, the future of the New York Islanders could be in serious jeopardy.
"I hope it's something they're able to resolve," Weekes said. "I think it'd be a huge blow to the League … not only to Long Island, but that says a lot about the New York-metro area that you've got three teams, not to mention Buffalo. When you've got three teams in one area, that says a lot. I certainly don't want to see the Islanders leave there."