Islanders Win Race Back ‘Home’

The Islanders are on the fast track to the race track.

For that, they can thank many sources with the official announcement on Wednesday that the hockey club’s bid to build a state of the art arena next to Belmont Race Track has been approved.

Now that ownership, led by Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky, have cleared that major hurdle, the accent now will be on speeding the construction process from blueprints to shovels in the ground.

No less noteworthy is the fact that the Belmont green light for the Isles’ general staff also could do much in favor of the franchise retaining captain John Tavares for years to come.

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NHL analysts long have predicted that a favorable vote on Belmont could persuade Tavares and his advisors to have the center signed long-term rather than allowing him to go into free agency.

That, however, is an issue to be determined by ownership and others in the high command. In the meantime, Islanders ownership can exult in the result.

“No question,” said Evan Weiner, who writes a respected blog called The Politics of Sports Business, “the Islanders have won big. The new building is about three years away.”

What immediately matters is that the long-involved crusade toward construction has reaped the most critical of awards: State approval which now brings a host of ramifications for an assortment of parties for many of the following reasons:

1. PSYCHOLOGICAL BOOST: For the past two years, Islanders fans have worried about the ramifications had the Belmont bid not been approved. Getting the green light is like having a safe lifted off their shoulders.

2. FANS: A site that could satisfy long-time Islanders fans from Nassau and Suffolk counties, as well as those from New York City, was the aim of Belmont. The Elmont location answers those questions.

3. MASS TRANSPORTATION: A Long Island Rail Road station adjoining the arena site will fill the train-to-the-game gap long bothering those who could not take the LIRR directly to Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

4. OTHER TRANSIT POSSIBILITIES: Major Long Island arteries already have serviced Belmont Race Track. They will naturally provide easy auto access to the new ice palace.

5. PLAYERS: Since virtually all members of the Islanders live on the Island, the new arena will be significantly closer to their homes as well as the club’s new training facility near the Coliseum.

6. MARKETING: A brand new arena such as the Knights boast in Vegas and the Red Wings do in Detroit automatically becomes a lure for top NHL free agents. It also helps retain potential free agents — in this case Tavares — for the current sextet.

Reaction among players, fans and the media has been positive up and down the line. A few samples follow:

“It’s good for the Islanders as a team,” said MSG Networks analyst Kenny Albert, “and for the National Hockey League in general. All along, the Scott Malkin-Jon Ledecky ownership has been terrific.

“They maintained that they wanted to keep the franchise in the New York Metropolitan Area and they’ve made good on the promise.”

The proposed state of the art arena is blueprinted for 18,000 seats and planned for 150 events.

If current plans jell, the ice palace will be surrounded by retail space, a hotel and what is described as an “innovation center” with input from the community.

Among politicians who have endorsed the arena complex, they include Governor Andrew Cuomo, State Senators Todd Kaminsky, and Elaine Phillips as well as Nassau County Executive-elect Laura Curran.

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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at a private lunch last year told me that there was no question in his mind that a move from Brooklyn sometime in the future was inevitable.

“The club needs a new arena,” Bettman disclosed. “There’s no doubt about it.”

At the time, two venues were under consideration: 1. The Belmont location; 2. On land near the Mets’ CitiField in Flushing.

In the end, Elmont got the nod because — among other virtues — it’s in Nassau County, closer to the prime Islanders fan base and re-developing the area was more practical in both a political and economic sense.

A fascinating aspect of the Belmont approval is that it underlines the faith that Malkin-Ledecky placed in their one and only choice.

The Isles are one step closer to a new home near Belmont Park (Photo by Sue Kawczynsk/Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images)

During a private media luncheon in Manhattan, last October Ledecky unequivocally stated that his group did not have a Plan B in mind had their bid failed.

“We are only focused on one thing,” Ledecky told me, “and that is getting the arena approval for Elmont. That’s our one and only focus.”

To underline his point, the Islanders co-owner has been working hand-in-glove with Long Island Rail Road officials. The LIRR is expected to improve fan access once the Elmont arena is completed.

Player reaction figures to be enthusiastically supportive of the planned arena. Despite the move to Barclays, players have maintained their residences on Long Island which has easy access to the Northwell training facility.

While the positive response to the bid is not as joy-inspiring as winning a Stanley Cup, the arena approval is as roughly equivalent as one could be.

No set of sports owners have been so dedicated to a cause as Ledecky and Malkin have in their crusade to have their Belmont blueprints approved.

And now that they are on the fast track to the race track we can expect an equally speedy — and positive — turn of events involving the team.

What they will be figures to be another melodrama equal to the Belmont adventure.

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