Islanders set August 1st date for referendum to build new arena

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Yesterday we told you about how the Islanders had a major announcement to make about plans surrounding a possible new arena for the team on Long Island.

Today during an elaborate press conference at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Hempstead, all the Islanders and local dignitaries gathered to announce that Nassau County has set an August 1 date for a referendum on whether or not to approve $400 million in bonds to help build a new arena on the site. $350 million of that will go to build a new arena while the other $50 million will go towards building a minor league baseball park.

Islanders owner Charles Wang, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, and Town of Hempstead supervisor Kate Murray were on hand for the announcement and for these parties to come together on an agreement is a miracle unto itself.

In the past, Wang has pressed Murray and the Hempstead government to press ahead with his plan to build the Lighthouse Project that was planned to build a new arena as well as develop the grounds where the Nassau Coliseum is now into a major attraction for the area with hotels, restaurants, and shopping areas to support the new arena. Murray fought hard against Wang over his ideas and they were ultimately put by the wayside in favor of this new deal.

Former Islanders PR man turned Islanders exiled blogger Chris Botta gave his thoughts on this new deal and says that if this isn’t approved, the Islanders could be on their way out of town when the Isles lease at Nassau Coliseum runs out in 2015. One thing working in their favor is the date for the vote.

The key here is Aug. 1. Think about it. The vote is not going to be on Election Day, when tens of thousands of Nassau residents would be in position for a knee-jerk rejection of a $400 million expense by a bankrupt county. (The fact is, county taxes are not expected to go up if Wang gets the dough for his building on the Coliseum property. The bond will be covered by eventual revenue from the new facility).

The Aug. 1 date, mandated by Mangano, naturally irks the opposition. Aug. 1 is a Monday in the summer. Think about the people who will be inspired to vote Yes or No, to make the effort to drive to the polling stations to take a stand on one issue on a Monday during a Long Island summer.

Islanders fans have been the key to getting things going on this all along and if you think they’re not going to show up at the polls to approve the funds needed to replace the NHL’s oldest and most run down building, you’ve been hitting the wineries in The Hamptons a bit too hard.

If the voters do approve the referendum, then it’s a huge win for the Islanders because they’ll finally have a facility worthy of the modern age to help market the team not just to fans but to prospective players as well. If the voters say no, however, Charles Wang would likely be exhausted dealing with things in Long Island and then look to do something drastic either by selling the team or start fishing around for a new city with less headaches to deal with to take the Islanders.

We’ll see how the politics of things work out over the summer, but the key here is that this doesn’t turn into a play on public money as the bonds taken out to build the facilities will be paid off with the revenues made at them. It’s a smart way to do things and it takes the pressure off the taxpayers who may not want anything to do with the project. If you’re looking to compare it to what’s gone on in Glendale with the Coyotes, that difference is a marked one.

While the Isles will be busy this summer looking to improve the team on the ice, it’s up to the voters to see if they want to keep them around for an extended stay.

New Seattle NHL arena remains on schedule for summer of 2021

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SEATTLE (AP) — The arena for Seattle’s NHL expansion franchise remains on track to open sometime in the summer of 2021.

Construction officials said Monday that the entire bowl of the former KeyArena has been demolished and excavation work is ongoing. Officials hope to begin digging down 15 feet from the current floor by year’s end and to spend most of 2020 constructing the new seating bowl from the bottom up.

Ken Johnsen, who is overseeing the construction project for Oak View Group and the NHL franchise, says the most challenge part so far has been putting in supports to take on the weight of the 44 million-pound roof, which is staying in place. The new arena is being built under the roof, which has historical landmark status.

Johnsen says the budget for the project remains around $930 million.

Previewing the 2019-20 Minnesota Wild

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, looking at whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

Better or worse: If we are comparing the Wild right now to where they were at the beginning of the 2018-19 season it would be difficult to argue that they are better following the in-season trades of Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, and Charlie Coyle. But if we are comparing them to where they were at the end of the 2018-19 season they might be a little better. Mats Zuccarello is another big-money player on the wrong side of 30, but he is still good. Mikko Koivu and Matthew Dumba are returning after missing significant portions of the 2018-19 season. There is also some potential with younger players to maybe take a step forward. The important question is whether or not those improvements are enough to get them back in the playoffs and help them return to contention in the Western Conference.

Strengths: The top half of their defense is really good with Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, and Dumba leading the way. Suter is the biggest name and the one that gets most of the attention because he never seems to leave the ice, but don’t overlook the other two. Spurgeon just signed a seven-year contract extension to remain with the team and has been a criminally underrated player for most of his career. Dumba, meanwhile, brings a ton of offensive potential from the blue line and was in the middle of a breakout season until an injury sustained in a fight sidelined him for most of the season. Behind them they have an above average goalie in Devan Dubnyk serving as the last line of defense. When he is on his game, he can carry the team and has been one of the league’s most productive goalies since joining the team in them middle of the 2014-15 season.

Weaknesses: The Wild have a lot of really good veteran players and some young players that could become really good players. What they are lacking is great players. They don’t really have anyone that can be a difference-making, impact player that puts the team on their back for a game (or a stretch of games) and carries it. That kind of limits what your team’s ceiling is among the league’s hierarchy of contenders. The other concern is the age of the core. With Spurgeon now re-signed, they now have six players over the age of 30 signed for at least two more seasons. Several of those players are signed beyond the age of 35. How will all of those players hold up during those contracts?

[MORE: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Bruce Boudreau is entering his fourth season as the Wild’s head coach and is already going to be working with his third different general manager. That is kind of shocking, not only because the Wild have gone through that much change in their front office, but that the head coach has outlasted all of it. We will put his hot seat rating as a 6 out of 10. He does not have one foot out the door, but he is probably not totally secure, either.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Jason Zucker, Zach Parise, and Kevin Fiala are the three players worth keeping a close eye on this season.

One of the more bizarre aspects of Paul Fenton’s one year of error in Minnesota was his apparent burning desire to trade Zucker. He has not only been one of the team’s best two-way players and a popular member of the community, but Fenton was also trying to sell him at what was probably his lowest possible value. A similar move with Niederreiter went about as poorly as could have been expected, and repeating the same mistake with Zucker would have been crushing. As it stands now, Zucker is back in Minnesota and should be poised to have a bounce back year offensively.

Speaking of bounce back years, Parise went through one of his own during the 2018-19 season and saw pretty significant improvements in his production across the board. He is almost certainly never going to be a 40-goal, 90-point player again, but was his bounce back a one-year outlier in what has been a steady decline in recent years? Or can the Wild expect similar production this season?

Of all the players Fenton acquired during the 2018-19 season the one that seems most intriguing is Fiala. He is still only 23 years old, has already shown 20-goal ability in the NHL, and has some fairly promising underlying numbers to his game. He is a better player than what he showed immediately after the trade.

Playoffs or lottery: There is a short-term path back to the playoffs for this team, but a lot of things need to go right in order for that to happen. Realistic outcome is this looks like a team that finishes somewhere between 7th and 11th in the Western Conference. Not good enough to truly contend, but not bad enough to play its way into the highest draft lottery odds.

More
Do Wild have short-term path back to playoffs?
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Flyers re-sign Travis Konecny to 6-year, $33 million deal

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Another domino in the NHL’s restricted free agency saga has fallen.

The Philadelphia Flyers announced on Monday that they have re-signed forward Travis Konecny to a six-year contract that will pay him $5.5 million per year through the end of the 2023-24 season. Konecny was the last of the Flyers’ unsigned RFA’s, and his new deal means that general manager Chuck Fletcher’s offseason checklist is now complete.

“We are happy to have Travis under contract for the next six seasons,” said Fletcher in a statement released by the team. “Travis has shown progression in each of his three seasons and is an integral part of our group of young forwards. His speed, skill and tenacity sets him apart in today’s NHL.”

The 22-year-old Konecny is coming off a 24-goal, 49-point performance for the Flyers a year ago, a stat line that was almost identical to what he did the year before. He figures to be a significant part of the Flyers’ core in the coming seasons and is one of eight players the team has signed through at least 2022, joining Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, James van Riemsdyk, Ivan Provorov, and Shayne Gostisbehere.

Even if he never becomes anything more than a 25-goal, 50-point player that is still a pretty strong contract for the Flyers, and there is still a chance he is capable of more.

With Konecny now signed the list of remaining unsigned RFA’s throughout the league is down to Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Mathew Tkachuk, Brock Boeser, Mikko Rantanen, Brayden Point, Brandon Carlo, Julius Honka, Anthony DeAngelo, and Saku Maenalanen.

MORE:
Provorov signs 6-year, $40.5 million deal with Flyers
• 
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHLPA declines to reopen CBA, ensuring labor peace through 2022

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There will be labor peace in the NHL for at least the next three years.

The NHLPA announced on Monday that they are declining their option to reopen the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The players could have opted out, which would have meant the current agreement, which ends after the 2021-22 season would have instead concluded on Sept. 15, 2020.

“While players have concerns with the current CBA, we agree with the League that working together to address those concerns is the preferred course of action instead of terminating the agreement following this season,” said NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr in a statement. “We have been having discussions with the League about an extension of the CBA and expect that those talks will continue.”

“We are pleased with the NHL Players’ Association’s decision not to reopen the Collective Bargaining Agreement,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with the NHLPA for the benefit of all stakeholders, especially our fans.”

The NHL’s owners had a Sept. 1 deadline to decide if they wanted to reopen the CBA but chose against doing so stating, “Based on the current state of the game and the business of the game, the NHL believes it is essential to continue building upon the momentum we have created with our Players and, therefore, will not exercise its option to reopen the CBA.”

While the league has expressed its happiness with the current agreement and is fine with letting the final three years run out, the players, while they’ve chosen against reopening it, certainly have issues that they want to iron out. As escrow and future Olympic participation stand as two of the biggest topics that require clarity, the fact that  talks between both sides in the lead up to these deadlines have been categorized as fairly positive makes one hopeful for long-term labor peace.

“I can only speak from the League standpoint,” said Bettman during the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago earlier this month. “Obviously there are things that we think are issues in the collective bargaining agreement, but when we balance that against stability and labor peace, we came out in favor of moving forward without the possibility of distraction. The union has to make a similar decision.

“I think in all of our dealings over the years, I think rancor would be a bit of an exaggeration. It’s always been professional. It’s always been cordial. I think the issue comes when there are major issues of disagreement. Even on those issues where we’re focused where a change might be appropriate, we’ve decided now is not the time, and if we can work through our issues and possibly extend the CBA, that would be a good thing.”

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.