When the Islanders hired Lou Lamoriello as President of Hockey Operations in May of 2018, the Hockey Hall of Famer took the job with the clear expectation that the Belmont Park Arena was going to be a reality. Without being convinced by owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky that the Islanders would eventually be breaking ground on their long-awaited new home, Lamoriello probably doesn’t take the job and then subsequently become the General Manager.
Let’s be honest…potential big-name free agents and trade acquisitions with a say in their future were, for the most part, not interested in coming to the Islanders who as of December of 2018 became a two-arena franchise playing at both Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center until Belmont is ready in the fall of 2021. The vision of that arena wasn’t enough to keep John Tavares on Long Island but with the building taking shape, it’s helping the Islanders become an attractive destination.
Belmont was credited with an assist on landing Lamoriello and then dished out another helper on Monday when Lamoriello acquired forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau from the Ottawa Senators before the trading deadline in exchange for a conditional first round pick in 2020, a second round pick in 2020 and a conditional third round pick in 2020. Pageau then promptly agreed to a six-year contract extension with the Islanders and he could make his Isles debut on Tuesday night against the Rangers at Nassau Coliseum.
During a conference call with reporters on Monday, Pageau acknowledged that the arena played a role in his decision to sign the extension.
“It’s great,” said Pageau who has scored a career high 24 goals so far this season to go along with 40 points.
“I don’t know what it was like to be playing in two different rinks but I haven’t heard anything negative. But obviously, that new arena just shows the commitment that the owners and the organization have.”
The new arena is still about 19-20 months away from completion so there still a matter of sorting out where the Islanders would play potential playoff games this season and what next season will look like. It could still be as split of Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center or perhaps the NHL could allow the Islanders to just play all of the games on Long Island since Belmont Park Arena is on the way.
Pageau is gladly accepting the short-term uncertainty because he is joining a team that has a chance to win on a consistent basis with a new home not far down the road.
“Just to see how competitive the team is already,” said Pageau. “It’s such an honor for me and I couldn’t be more excited to go on a team that’s going to be competing every year for the playoffs and for a championship. I couldn’t be more excited as a player. That’s what we play for and that’s why I’m excited to go and play for them.”
For many years, the Islanders and their fans have had to deal with so many off the ice issues whether it was ownership, arena issues, payroll restrictions, a revolving door of coaches, the controversial GM eras of Mike Milbury and Garth Snow, and just the uncertainly of knowing if this franchise was going to remain on Long Island, or at least in the New York area.
But now, it’s a whole new ball…make that hockey game. The Islanders are officially back in the National Hockey League with strong ownership in Malkin and Ledecky, a Hall of Famer executive like Lamoriello, a Stanley Cup winning Head Coach in Barry Trotz, a good team on the ice, and a great new home coming very soon.
It’s a franchise that Pageau, and soon to be others, want to be a part of.
“That’s something you want as a player to see that everyone is pushing in the same direction and I’m glad that I’ll have the chance to be part of it,’ said Pageau.
The past is the past. For the Islanders, it’s now about the present and the future. There’s no more escaping from Long Island like Kirk Muller pulled and no more “thanks but no thanks” to extension offers like Tavares, Ryan Smyth, and Thomas Vanek. No more claims by ownership that the roof is going to collapse and no more political squabbles.
The New York Islanders are alive and kicking and you can thank the Belmont Park Arena for being a big reason why.