On Tuesday morning, there was just under 1,000 construction workers at UBS Arena continuing to get the Islanders’ new home ready for the start of next season. They still have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time as the 2021-22 National Hockey League season is expected to start around mid-October. November 1st has been the target date for completion of UBS Arena, so the Islanders are preparing to have to begin the season with a road trip.
At this point, just how long the road trip will be is still in question.
“I do expect us to be on the road at the beginning of the year,” said Islanders President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello. “That is our intention. I don’t want to say what the potential date is because it’s a moving target.”
Because of the uncertainly surrounding just when UBS Arena will be ready for the Islanders’ home opener, the Islanders are hoping for the best in terms of how long their season-opening road trip will be and how difficult it will be on the players, coaches, staff and their families. With the NHL expected to go back to their regular divisional format, the Islanders could play a good number of road games against Metropolitan Division rivals like the Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, and Washington Capitals as well teams like the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins in the Northeast Division.
The Islanders have not yet seen what their schedule could look like, but staying close to home as much as possible would be ideal until the puck can be dropped at Belmont.
“It wouldn’t be as taxing to our players and their families if we are to play a considerable amount of time away from the arena until it’s ready,” said Lamoriello.
But what if the construction of UBS Arena takes a little longer than expected?
Could the Islanders actually play a handful of games at Nassau Coliseum before UBS Arena can open?
It certainly sounds like the Islanders are ready to be on the road as long as they need to so that they could play all of their home games next season at Belmont.
The Islanders aren’t even planning to play as much as an exhibition game at “The Barn”.
“We will play our home pre-season games, as of this moment unless something changes, in Bridgeport,” said Lamoriello.
That certainly appears to rule out any chance of the Islanders having another Nassau Coliseum farewell tour, but there has also been some chatter on social media over the years regarding another hockey team calling “The Barn” home. When the Islanders first left the Coliseum in 2015 and the arena was to undergo a renovation and downsize, there was some discussion that perhaps the Isles’ AHL team in Bridgeport would eventually relocate to Uniondale.
That doesn’t appear to be happening either.
One reason is that Oak View Group, the company that is partnering with the Islanders on UBS Arena, operates Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. Also, the Islanders recently rebranded the AHL team from “Bridgeport Sound Tigers” to Bridgeport Islanders. The team’s long-term future in Bridgeport has been securing a new lease at the arena and that would lead to some necessary arena improvements.
And based on what we heard on Tuesday morning those scenarios appear to be moving forward.
“We’re going through a big renovation at Bridgeport in a lot of areas,” said Lamoriello.
But the most important arena related news that came out of Lamoriello’s chat with reporters is that the plan is for the Islanders to be road warriors at the start of next season with the UBS Arena era in team history getting underway, hopefully sooner rather than later, sometime in November after what could be a lengthy excursion of road games.
“I’m not worried about the trips,” said Lamoriello. “I know the NHL and the scheduling group take tremendous consideration of having players on the road for too long. I’m comfortable that we’ll get a schedule that we can live with. I’m looking at this as a glass half full…the excitement of being able to play all our available home games, 41 of them, in front of our own fans.”
And it appears as if all 41 New York Islanders home games will be played at their new home UBS Arena. Also, while the Islanders have played pre-season games in Bridgeport before, it looks like they will play all of them this season at Webster Bank Arena as they wait for their shiny new palace at Belmont Park to be completed. The Nassau Coliseum era is over and the Islanders are about to embark on their new future less than ten miles west while their AHL team appears to be planting roots in Bridgeport for years to come.