Islanders arena mess update: Bettman again shoots down Nassau talk

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The NHL held a Friday press conference to hype up the 2018 Winter Classic between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers, but the most interesting comments had little to do with an outdoor game.

(Although Jack Eichel watching the first-ever Winter Classic at age 11 is enlightening, and for most of us, a punch in our aging guts.)

While contract talks regarding Eichel came up – he again stated that playing out his contract year is no big deal – the other intriguing subject was not related to the Rangers or Sabres. Newsday’s Steve Zipay and Jim Baumbach report that, once again, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that he doesn’t think Nassau Coliseum would make sense for the New York Islanders, even as merely a temporary venue.

“Ultimately, whether or not the Islanders want to consider that and bring it to the league or something, you’ve had to ask them about it,” Bettman said. “But my gut reaction is it’s not a viable option.”

Before we try to dig through some of the dizzying aspects of the Islanders’ current situation, note that Bettman said that this is his gut reaction. He didn’t mark the situation downright as impossible altogether. Perhaps there would be room for convincing, though it sounds like it would be an uphill battle.

Even with that slightly optimistic aside in mind, it’s worth noting that it takes a lot of wind out of sails for Bettman to seem disinterested in the idea of merely having a few games at Nassau, as Baumbach also highlights. Such a thought makes Bettman’s latest comments that much more troubling than what he said back in April.

It’s no secret that the Islanders’ shaky arena situation is making a contract extension more difficult to work out with John Tavares. How many star players want to be a part of a team that resembles a struggling college student bouncing among friends’ couches?

As with many ownership and arena situations, things can be tricky. Getting a few positive breaks doesn’t necessarily guarantee that all will work out, especially with the scary timeline of Tavares only having one season remaining on his current contract.

Some dates to remember

It wasn’t all about killing hope for the Islanders fans back in April, as Bettman gave a tentative thumbs up to two possibilities: an arena on land near Belmont Park or one next to Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.

The array of possible deadlines and hiccups can be confusing, but a few dates stand out as of today.

For one thing, a Belmont proposal would need to happen soon, as Sept. 28 could be an informative date in the process.

Zipay and Baumbach’s Newsday report notes that the state doesn’t have a timeline for a decision, and a Jan. 30 date that might sound far-off today could come frighteningly soon for the Islanders:

If either the Islanders or Barclays Center want to opt out of their 25-year license agreement, they are contractually obligated to do so by Jan. 30. That means that the Islanders may not know their longterm future when that deadline arrives.

In an ideal scenario where the Islanders get an arena plan in full motion, they’d likely still need to spend a significant chunk of time playing somewhere else as that arena is built. More realistic situations could call for increased certainty well into 2018.

With that in mind, two other key dates could be the 2017-18 trade deadline (usually late February/early March) and the summer of 2018, when Tavares’ current contract expires.

If they don’t know where they’re playing by the trade deadline, would that prompt them to avoid losing Tavares for nothing? Would they be able to move enough in the right direction to buy time in one way or another?

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The Islanders’ arena situation is becoming winding and frustrating enough to feel in some ways like the Coyotes’ seemingly eternal issues. The added wrinkle for the Islanders is the threat of it scaring away Tavares.

This story is by no means over, but Bettman’s comments once again make it seem like the big events won’t take place on Long Island.

Check out that Newsday story for more details on this confusing and rather nerve-wracking situation.