Mar. 25, 2017
Governor Malloy's Islanders to Hartford letter may be the first of many
A letter to the New York Islanders last Friday from the State of Connecticut put Hartford on the world hockey stage. Channel 3 in Hartford first broke the story and from there it went big league, with articles from ESPN, NBC Sports,FiveThrityEight and many more. Governor Malloy's "surprise" letter to the New York Islanders created a ton of new questions for the return of the Whalers, but it also answered some big questions too.
The Islanders most likely are not coming to Hartford to play in the XL Center. Only for the simple reason that no sports league should ever move a team out of New York. The market is too big to lose, it is the largest in the league and country, including the television ratings which produce money you just shouldn't walk away from. That is why this letter does much more than ask a team to come to Connecticut.
What Hartford just did was declare to the NHL and the hockey world that they are ready to compete with other cities for a relocated team. It says the state admits publicly that it is now a believer in the Hartford market. Technically that letter is addressed to any of the 30 teams in the league who even think about making a change. Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos is thinking of selling the original Whaler franchise, the Coyotes just got left at the alter by ASU, losing all hope for their arena plans in Tempe, and the Islanders ice issues at the Barclays, the seats with obstructed views reminds me of something someone said to Hartford in 2011. "Hartford needs to be a solution to an NHL problem" Howard Baldwin said this back in 2011, he was right. He also said Hartford would have to be ready by 2017. Today, here is Hartford being a solution to any teams' problem. Hartford took a big step last Friday and maybe they are a three legged horse in the KY Derby but they are here and In It to win It. If you are a true Hartford Hockey fan you definitely hope for the best here.
This proposal from the state tells us that the NHL and Hartford are willing to work with each other. The letter wasn't sent without a heads up to the league, Connecticut wouldn't risk upsetting the NHL when they are trying to attract the NHL. Even the architecture firm working on making the XL Center modern are the same people that rebuilt MSG, and like Hartford's plan it was done without interrupting the Rangers season. Stadiums Consultant International worked on the league's biggest market and now they are in small market Hartford with a plan to make the XL Center capable of being "NHL Ready". Connecticut has a relationship with the NHL already. The Islanders said they didn't know the letter was coming but one of their owners toured the XL Center as recently as the summer of 2014 according to a staff member of the 42 year old arena. The NHL is clearly not anti-Hartford, otherwise there would have been no letter at all.
This letter also tells us that Governor Malloy is either crazy or he has a much better relationship with the NHL than anyone thought. Don't forget that in October Governor Malloy mentioned that he believed the Islanders were going to move and he wanted to be ready to attract them to Hartford when the time was right. The Governor has been pretty consistent, he mentions the Islanders potential to move in October, the Islanders have arena issues and by February the Governor is offering them a permanent home. The Governor's work with the NHL and NBC in Stamford really is paying off now. The relationship he built back then is getting his foot in the door on making Hartford an NHL city again.
There was a question on how would the Governor show the legislature the potential of the XL Center plan, that letter just did. After this coming summer the XL Center will have an ice making system that is comparable or better than any arena in the NHL. The Barclays ice floor has PVC piping, the XL Center's piping will be all steel. The legislature isn't fully behind the XL Center's 250 million dollar renovation plan from the Capital Region Development Authority. There are some State Representatives and Senators who have publicly said they would support bringing back the Hartford Whalers and this letter may have helped convince a few more.
The states large Whaler fan base finally had their prayer's answered, after decades of waiting. They can revel in the celebration of just knowing that for once in a generation that the state is finally serious about righting a 20 year wrong. It's been great for Hartford being the top story in the NHL. The amount of hashtag searches for the #XL Center, #Hartford, and #Whalers over the last 48 hours alone helps to keep the dream alive. The bottom line still remains that the renovation needs to be completed to stop the building from running in the red. It is needed for UConn to compete and collect revenue for the states flagship university. The renovation plan for the XL Center and the letter to the islanders answer the question on whether Hartford is a major league city or not.
If the NHL did return to Hartford the Wolf Pack would be able to move to a newly renovated arena. The Rangers AHL team could move to Nassau and play in the coliseum. With it's reduced seating to 13 thousand, it is a perfect AHL building.
The XL Center will not only get a new ice sheet this summer but it also will get a new type of adventure seating. The first 3-5 rows of the seats directly behind sections 119-123 will be removed so a party pit can be installed. Next season fans at games will be able to stand next to the glass, hang out at bar height tables and enjoy a beverage. The entertainment changes to the arena have proven profit worthy. The Fan Bar at the same East end of the arena has beaten projections on sales, at one time by almost 50%.