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Inside the NHL: Disastrous detour to Brooklyn leaves Islanders in limbo

The way travel schedules have allowed the last couple of years, there's been enough time to make three side trips on the subway to Brooklyn for games in Barclays Center. Two have been to see the Brooklyn Nets -- OK, more to see their opposition -- and once to see an Islanders-Penguins game last April that resulted in Matt Murray's first career shutout and a key moment in his takeover of the net all the way to a Stanley Cup two months later.

Impressions of the building? Spectacular facade with massive outdoor video wall, large entranceway, and terrific concession options highlighting Brooklyn-themed restaurants like Junior's Cheesecake, Williamsburg Pizza, Nathan's hot dogs and Calexico Mexican. The concourses, especially on the lower level, are nice and roomy. The seats are comfortable, although the bowl is very dark with a theater-style lighting grid focused on the basketball court. I wasn't a fan of the steep, steep climb to the top on the sides and corners.

Still, it's a very modern, sleek place and a great way to bring professional sports back to Brooklyn for the first time since the Dodgers abandoned Ebbets Field in 1958. But after all those platitudes, one thing has been quickly learned by players and fans alike.

Barclays Center is a terrible place for hockey.

The Islanders' move from Nassau Coliseum to Barclays has been a disaster thus far, and the feeling that it was a temporary pit stop certainly grew in recent days with the word the arena is likely dumping the team after the 2018-19 season because it can make more money from concerts and other events than poorly-attended hockey games. Easy to see why: The arena is paying the team an average of $53.5 million a year in exchange for control of business operations.

Islanders owners Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin are in a tough spot here. They have an opt-out following the 2017-18 season but can't go back to the renovated Nassau Coliseum, which is being downsized, and the team was moved in the first place to get closer to New York City. There's talk of a new arena in Queens adjacent to Citi Field or Belmont Park but dropping a puck next door to the homes of the Mets or the Belmont Stakes certainly couldn't happen just 2 1/2 years from now.

Last week's announcement came a couple of days after NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman gave an eye-raising answer when asked about the Brooklyn situation during his annual All-Star Weekend press conference in Los Angeles.

"The owners are committed to the franchise. They're committed to New York and the great fan base that has followed the Islanders," Bettman said. "There are some issues about playing in Barclays. It may be fundamental to the system, and that's not something that can be fixed in the short term. I think as is prudent, Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky are reviewing the situation and looking very seriously at what their options are."

Hardly a ringing endorsement. By "fundamental to the system," Bettman is referring to the widely known belief that the ice-making system is hardly NHL quality and simply may not be fixable at this point because you would have to rip up the arena floor and start over.

Barclays was never built with hockey in mind. It's a basketball arena. Seats are arranged that way, to the point that one entire end has obstructed views with the entire offensive zone and net not able to be seen. So those sections stay mostly vacant. The scoreboard is over the blue line and not center ice. There's a white SUV parked in one corner behind the glass where more seats could be. All the raucous denizens who filled Nassau Coliseum reside in Barclays' hinterlands.

Most fans hate the long train ride from Long Island. The whole place is just plain goofy for hockey. You have to believe people in Quebec City are going to watch this one as closely as they've been paying attention to the situation in Carolina.

And on Friday, a new suitor emerged as Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy and Hartford mayor Luke Bronin offered the use of Hartford's XL Center, the former home of the Whalers, as a temporary or even permanent home. There are plans for a $250 million renovation to what was known as the Hartford Civic Center until the Whalers left for Raleigh in 1997.

Blue notes at St. Louis presser

You won't see a more remarkable press conference than the one St. Louis GM Doug Amstrong gave Wednesday in discussing the firing of Ken Hitchcock and the promotion of Mike Yeo to the top job. Yeo, the former Minnesota boss, had been on the bench this year as an assistant and the coach-in-waiting for the retiring Hitchcock.

Armstrong wept when discussing the dismissal of Hitchcock, which left his close friend one win away from tying Al Arbour for third on the all-time list. He took blame for the decisions to jettison Brian Elliott, David Backes and Troy Brouwer and heaped plenty of damning words upon his players.

“We have to regain what’s important for the Note on the front, not the name on the back,” said Armstrong, referring to the team's iconic logo. “We don’t lose with pride. It just felt like we were hit and miss, night in and night out."

Armstrong's biggest blast was when he called some of his players "independent contractors."

"There has to be a sacrifice for the team,” he said. “On a 50-50 puck, you cheat on the offensive side of it. Good teams cheat on the defensive side of it, so as not to expose their teammates. So I'm hoping now that we don’t expose each other.”

Bylsma says yes to Yeo

Sabres coach Dan Bylsma couldn't help but smile Saturday when asked about Yeo, his assistant during the Penguins' 2009 Stanley Cup run. He said he texted Yeo congratulations after the Blues won his first game Thursday,  a solid 5-1 win over Toronto.

"We knew it was going in that direction for next season and it just happened at a difficult time for both the Blues and 'Hitch'," Bylsma said. "Mike stepping in now with 35 games or so left is a chance he deserves. I think he's a good head coach, a guy who I coached some really good hockey with and he was a big part of it. He deserves it and I was happy to see him get his first win there under his belt."

Numerology

---Keep this in mind for the playoffs: The Penguins improved to 22-3-2 at home with Friday's overtime win over the Blue Jackets. Pretty mind-boggling. The best home record of all time was 36-2-2 by the 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers, but they lost both home games in the Stanley Cup final and were swept by Montreal in a series that denied them a Cup three-peat.

---The overtime loss to the Rangers dropped the Sabres to 1-9-2 on Thursdays this season. That's utterly inexplicable, but I would generally not call 12 games a small sample either.

---Sharks winger Patrick Marleau become the 45th player in NHL history to reach 500 goals when he opened the scoring Thursday in Vancouver -- but only the eighth to do it for one team in the post-1967 expansion era. The first? Gilbert Perreault of the Sabres, who scored No. 500 at Memorial Auditorium against New Jersey in 1986.

---The Panthers are on their first three-game winning streak and trending up with the return of Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. It's about time. Until this run, their record under new coach Tom Rowe was 9-9-9.

Around the boards

---It will be interesting to see if the Vegas Golden Knights go for a deposed head coach like Hitchcock, Florida's Gerard Gallant or Jack Capuano of the Islanders as their first bench boss or take a more out-of-the-box approach. Owner Bill Foley said recently the team was likely to hire a coach well before the expansion draft in June. There's some good choices right there.

---The NHL can deny it all day but it says here Brad Marchand escaped one suspension for a slew foot with the max $10,000 fine clearly because the league didn't want to have to deal with having a suspended player at the All-Star Game. How he escaped another one right after the break for upending Tampa Bay's Anton Stralman is indefensible. Marchand is a rat, plain and simple. A talented one for sure but rats don't change their colors. He should be on a very short leash with the Player Safety folks.

---Old friend Jhonas Enroth was named the AHL's Goaltender of the Month for January for his strong work with the San Diego Gulls. He went 6-0 with a 1.17 goals-against average and .957 save percentage in the month for the Ducks' affiliate -- allowing just seven goals on 163 shots. He was acquired by Anaheim on Jan. 11 from Toronto.

---Tough news for hockey fans in Albany as the AHL has approved the transfer of the Devils' top affiliate to Binghamton starting next season. The Senators had previously announced they were leaving Binghamton for Belleville, Ont., in 2017-18. The Albany Devils, born in 1993 as the River Rats, are last in the AHL in attendance this year at only about 3,000 per game in a 15,000-seat facility.

The move will leave the Times Union Center and the New York State capital without a hockey team, as the longtime home of Siena College and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference basketball is expected to fill lost hockey dates with other events.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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