Young stars commit to Islanders despite Coliseum’s uncertain future

Islanders players practice during the morning skate on media day at the Nassau Colisuem. (LIR photo by Mike Stainkamp)

The budding stars of the New York Islanders are committed to turning the organization around, no matter where they call home after the 2014 season.

This past August, Nassau County residents voted against a new Coliseum—leaving the fate of the franchise past the 2013-14 season uncertain. Nearly 57 percent of the voters voted against the Coliseum plans in a referendum on Aug. 1. The proposal, if successful, would have authorized $400 million for a new arena for the Islanders, a minor league ballpark and other economic development projects in the 77-acre Nassau Hub.

Islanders players practice during the morning skate on media day at the Nassau Colisuem. (LIR photo by Mike Stainkamp)

Islanders players practice during the morning skate on media day at the Nassau Colisuem. (LIR photo by Mike Stainkamp)

“We were disappointed [with the result of the vote] because we know how important it is to the franchise to keep the team here,” said former first overall pick John Tavares. “Without the [new] arena, it’s going to be tough for us to stay here.”

Back in 2009, the Islanders made Tavares the first pick in the NHL Entry Draft. After playing two seasons on Long Island, Tavares signed a new six-year contract extension on Sept. 15 that will keep him with the organization through the 2017-18 season.

In his two years with the Isles, Tavares, 21, has shown improvement and growth despite the uncertain future of the franchise.

A new facility could help the Islanders attract high-profile free agents to improve the team. The Isles are hoping for a return to the glory days of the early 1980s when they won four straight Stanley Cups (1980-83).

Despite the uncertainty, the Islanders locked up Tavares and fellow forwards Michael Grabner, Kyle Okposo and  Matt Moulson to multi-year contracts. All four of these players are under 28 giving the Islanders a youthful foundation.

“It shows a good commitment both ways,” said Moulson. “Obviously we wouldn’t be signing these contracts if we didn’t want to stay here and didn’t believe in this team.

“[General Manager] Garth [Snow] is starting to give contracts to guys who will be part of this organization in a winning way. The biggest thing for us is getting guys here that want to be here, and I think management has done a really good job of that so far.”

For instance, goaltender Rick DiPietro has another 10 years left on his historic contract—a 15-year, $67.5 million deal signed in September 2006.

The Islanders rolled the dice last season when they claimed the unproven Michael Grabner off waivers from the Florida Panthers in October. Once he joined the Isles, he made his presence known by scoring 34 goals in 76 games, which led all first-year players.

Grabner was also a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. He said he’s excited to be playing on Long Island and is focused more so on hockey than on things he can’t control.

“For all I know, we’re going to be here for a while,” said Grabner, 23. “It’s really out of our control, and I think management has plans to figure it out. The players are focused on the season and trying to go out there and win.”

“Being able to stay with the same group of guys will only help us every year,” Tavares said. “The familiarity and chemistry we have on the ice is great. I’m happy to be part of it, and I know the other guys are too.”

Both Head Coach Jack Capuano and owner Charles Wang repeatedly said they wished the season would start sooner, and they can’t wait to see what their mix of young and veteran players can do on the ice.

The Islanders open the regular season at home against the Panthers on Saturday, Oct. 8.