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Islanders officially headed to Brooklyn in 2015

by Dan Rosen

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Hello Brooklyn.

Those were the words uttered Wednesday by several elated power brokers, chief among them New York Islanders owner Charles Wang and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, sitting in a row on a podium just inside the main entrance at the brand new Barclays Center.

The Islanders put any questions about their future to bed by announcing they will be staying in New York -- even technically on Long Island -- thanks to a 25-year lease agreement Wang signed to move the team to Brooklyn's newly opened arena beginning with the 2015-16 NHL season.

Wang said he plans to honor the team's current lease agreement at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., through its expiration in 2015. The Islanders have called the Coliseum home since entering the NHL in 1972.

"Our goal from the outset was to have the Islanders play in a local, world-class facility that possesses the amenities our fans deserve," Wang said in announcing the new partnership with Barclays Center. "I'm happy to announce we achieve that goal with today's announcement."

Barclays Center opened last month and is the home of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, who ironically started as the New York Nets and were co-tenants with the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum from 1972-77.

"This announcement today reunites these two franchises," Wang said.

Wang said he will continue to own the Islanders and called the lease agreement with Barclays Center "ironclad." He added the team will continue to be called the New York Islanders.

"Our goal from the outset was to have the Islanders play in a local, world-class facility that possesses the amenities our fans deserve. I'm happy to announce we achieve that goal with today's announcement." -- Islanders' owner Charles Wang

Wang also revealed that the plan is to move some of the Islanders' business operations to Barclays Center while still keeping ties to Nassau County. He added that the Islanders expect to continue to use Iceworks in Syosset, N.Y., as their practice facility even after the move to Brooklyn.

Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark said they are already taking deposits for 2015-16 season tickets.

Commissioner Bettman said he was elated because the Islanders will be staying on Long Island.

"I know [Wang] has spent the better part of a decade in pursuit of a new local home for the Islanders because he is as passionate about this area," he said. "To finally be in position to say to New York Islander fans you don't have to worry about the future of this club, the club is staying local, you'll be able to get to it easily -- for us, for Islander fans, I know for Charles and [Barclays Center majority owner and developer] Bruce Ratner is a dream come true."

As it is currently situated, Barclays Center would have a seating capacity of 14,500 for hockey, making it the smallest arena in the NHL. MTS Centre in Winnipeg holds 15,004 fans.

Bettman said Wang, Ratner and Yormark have been discussing a redesign to add at least 500 seats, but the Commissioner did not seem overly concerned about the size of the rink.

"We expect the capacity to be about 15,000-plus," he said. "If you keep in mind Winnipeg is doing quite well in a building the same size and the Nassau Coliseum is 16,200. A thousand seats -- we don't think makes a material difference."

Wang started to entertain offers to move or relocate the Islanders last year after voters rejected a referendum to build a new arena in Nassau County. It was the latest of his several attempts to get the funding to construct a new home for the Islanders in the county.

Wang said his negotiations with Brooklyn and Ratner began to heat up seven months ago. The deal was finalized Tuesday.

Wang and Ratner have a seven-year friendship dating to when Ratner was trying to land Brooklyn as the new home of the Nets and Wang was attempting to get a new local arena for the Islanders in Nassau County.

"Charles got offers to move the team out of our state, and very good offers, and Charles wouldn't do that," Ratner said. "Charles wanted to keep them in the state of New York, local. Charles Wang is the real hero today. He has kept this team in New York state. So we welcome the Islanders. We welcome their fans. We welcome the new Brooklyn fans and we're all going to enjoy hockey here. It's a wonderful thing for everybody."

Wang said he notified a disappointed Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano of the team's decision to move to Brooklyn earlier Wednesday. He said Mangano was surprised -- but not blindsided -- by Wang's decision to move.

"I think we have said for many years now there comes a point where you have to make a decision because there is not enough time to build a new arena," Wang said. "We came to that conclusion at the end of last year. We said we would entertain every option. We were elated to have so much interest in what we were doing, but we also said we wanted to keep it local. We have been working at it and things have come to a beautiful ending at the Barclays Center."

Mangano took to his Twitter feed to defend his efforts to try to keep the Islanders in Nassau County.

"No one has done more to retain the New York Islanders than my administration," Mangano wrote Wednesday. "I have supported various proposals to redevelop the HUB including a public referendum in which votes chose not to construct a new sports arena. It's sad and unfortunate that political opponents chose to oppose my plan and instead continued to support the Culture of NO on Long Island."

Essential among Wang's reasons to move the club to Brooklyn is the convenience Barclays Center presents to the Islanders' fan base. The Long Island Railroad runs right under Barclays Center to the Atlantic Avenue station, located adjacent to the arena. There are also 11 subway lines and 11 bus lines that run to the arena.

"I took the subway here. It is easy to get here," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "There is more mass transit under this building than any other stadium in New York City, and that makes it more accessible for everybody.

"The fans from the team's current home in Nassau County can just take the LIRR, it stops just right across the street," he added. "Let's not forget the team is named for the island we are standing on."

Bloomberg, in fact, was so optimistic about the marriage between the Islanders and Brooklyn that he offered MetroCards to Wang and general manager Garth Snow to take the subway from Brooklyn to the Canyon of Heroes in downtown Manhattan for any future Stanley Cup parade -- the Islanders haven't won the Cup since their run of four in a row ended in 1983.

"Brooklyn, I'm sure, is going to help them get their mojo back," Bloomberg said. "Who says the rivalry between the Islanders and Rangers couldn't get any bigger?

"Well, it just did."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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