FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

bruce mug shot 1BY: Bruce Berlet

Who knows, maybe the New York Islanders will be moving to Hartford in four years?

That could be one of the possibilities after residents of Nassau County on Long Island voted down a $400 million referendum in a special election Monday that could have led to the construction of a new home for the Islanders. It failed by a 33,526 to 24,553 vote in what elections officials said was a very low turnout for the unusual midsummer election.

“I’m heartbroken,” Islanders owner Charles Wang said during a concession speech at the team’s reception at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, home of the Islanders that he and his backers hoped to replace. “We’re disappointed the referendum pertaining to the arena was not voted by the people of Nassau County as being a move in the right direction for growth. I feel the sound bites ruled the day and not the facts. Right now, it’s an emotional time, and we’re not going to make any comments on any specific next steps.

“We’re committed to the Nassau Coliseum until the year 2015 and like we’ve said all along, we will honor our lease. We now have a season to concentrate on with a team that is bursting with a young core of talent sprinkled with the right mix of veterans. This combination will bode well for the last four years of our lease. We will continue to bring the best possible concerts, family shows and exhibitions so Long Islanders can enjoy the events and keep their hard earned dollars in Nassau Coliseum. Training camp opens next month so hockey is right around the corner. I can’t wait till the puck drops at our home opener Oct. 8 at 8 p.m. Come out and watch us play. Let’s go Islanders.”

Without a new building, Wang previously threatened to move the team to another site on Long Island or to another market. But there are possibilities for Wang to work something out to keep the team in the area. There’s talk the team could move to the Barclays Center being built for the NBA’s New Jersey Nets in Brooklyn, N.Y., but there is concern the arena’s floor setup isn’t meant for hockey and would potentially cause problems. There’s also the chance that Wang explores building options in Queens, New York. The team wouldn’t quite be on Long Island, but they’d stay in the immediate area.

Nassau County executive Ed Mangano, a proponent of the plan who also spoke at a rally, predicted last week that losing the Islanders would cost the region $243.4 million a year in lost sale. He said the county would lose $7.8 million a year in tax revenue but still believes in the project and says supporters will continue to look for a way to make a sports-entertainment destination a reality in the county. A yes vote was needed to give officials enough time to build a replacement for the antiquated Nassau Coliseum before the Islanders’ lease expires in 2015.

Mangano still believes there is hope the Islanders will get a state-of-the-art arena in Nassau County.

“Tonight is not an ending. It is a beginning,” Mangano said. “We will find a new path, a path that brings people together, a path that solves the problem and blockades to redeveloping this property. We have suffered for 10 years and not been able to come together, but I love this county. I love what goes on in this area, and I still believe in a sports and entertainment destination. We will continue to work hard to find a balance so we that we can create jobs and opportunities in our great county. I am so confident that we will find a way. So many people have worked hard to find a solution, and a solution we shall find.”

Speaking directly to Wang, Mangano said, “While I know tonight did not bring an ending and a new beginning, it certainly has opened up a path and I will continue to pursue that path to keep the Islanders here.”

Islanders general manager Garth Snow also tried to deliver a positive spin to the disappointed fan base, saying no matter the vote, he believes the team will give them a reason to walk through the old turnstiles at the Coliseum this season.

“Four years ago when we set out on a rebuild we knew it would be bumps in the road,” Snow told reporters. “We built through the draft, we developed these players and now it’s time to win hockey games and get in the playoffs. It’s disappointing … but that being said, we have training camp next month and we’re going to give our fans something to cheer about this year. This is the time for us to win.”

The referendum went down despite support from two strange bedfellows, the rival New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. The two NHL teams hoped Wang & Co. would get what they desired, and proponents of the project, including labor unions, tourism officials and many business groups, argued it would bring jobs and spark economic growth. But opponents insisted that already heavily taxed residents should not have to foot the bill for the arena project. The plan, if approved, would have the county borrow the $400 million through a general obligation bond.

With the Barclays Center opening next year and Madison Square Garden, home of the Rangers, undergoing a complete renovation, the departure of the Islanders would likely mean the eventual demise of the Coliseum, the only home the team has had since entering the NHL in 1972. The Islanders recently asked the county for $4 million for a series of repairs, including fixes to the roof, some lower-bowl seating and the ice plant.

Wang has been trying to find a new place for the Islanders to play instead of Nassau Coliseum. The most prominent of Wang’s plans was “The Lighthouse Project,” but he was unable to gain approval for the plan from the Town of Hempstead. The project, which would have been privately financed, came with an estimated cost of $3.74 billion that included a refurbished Coliseum, a minor-league baseball stadium and various other housing, hotels and businesses in the area.

Voter turnout was extremely light as only about 15 percent of residents turned out. Bad weather in the afternoon and trouble with Long Island Railroad service may have contributed to low turnout, according to observers.

STIRLING ENJOYS CALDER CUP

Less than two months after undergoing emergency heart surgery, Binghamton Senators coach Steve Stirling was swimming with the Calder Cup as the guest of honor as he and his family hosted a pool party at son Todd’s home in Milton, Mass.

“We’re just enjoying the money,” Stirling, who coached the Islanders for two seasons after two seasons with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, told Joy Lindsay of the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin. “After all those years wanting to be a part of winning a championship, going all the way to the finals with Bridgeport (in 2002) and not winning it, you realize that it’s pretty special top to bottom to finally win one.”

Unfortunately, the 62-year-old Stirling was hospitalized in Binghamton when the Senators won the AHL championship in Game 6 in Houston. Stirling was preparing for the game June 5 when he began experiencing chest pains. A few hours later, he was having quadruple bypass surgery at Wilson Medical Center in Johnson City, N.Y. The surgery went well, but traveling to Houston for Game 6 on June 7 was impossible, so he watched the Senators’ 3-2 victory over the Aeros that gave Binghamton its first pro hockey championship from his hospital bed.

“I ended up having a male nurse who was a season ticket holder,” Stirling said. “He told me, ‘The doctors are giving you permission to watch the game, but I’m going to come in and check on your vitals.’ I dozed off during the first and second periods, but then he came into my room for the third period and said, ‘You better wake up.’ ”

Moments after the game ended, AHL president and CEO Dave Andrews presented Senators captain Ryan Keller with the Calder Cup, and Keller held Stirling’s nameplate in front of the trophy before hoisting it above his head. Then a team photo was taken in front of a sign that read, “Get well soon Coach Stirling.”

“It was heartwarming,” Stirling said. “We saw them bring the trophy out, then that big sign … I don’t get choked up often, but I was choked up when I saw that.”

Stirling got to hold the Calder Cup the next day as the team and coach Kurt Kleinendorst went straight the airport to the hospital to show off the trophy to Stirling and his wife, Chi-Chi.

“It’s the last thing I would have expected,” Stirling said. “They won a championship, and they enjoyed it that night. I’m sure they were ready to take a nap with the parade coming up that afternoon. For them to take time to share it with me is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Stirling wasn’t able to attend the celebratory parade and rally, but the city’s reaction still meant a lot.

“I’ve been around Binghamton a long time,” said Stirling, who played with the NAHL’s Dusters in 1974-76. “I know how passionate they are. Having 5,000 screaming fans, feeling how important it was to the community was just icing on the cake.”

Stirling is now focusing on returning to his coaching duties at training camp next month.

“I’d be bummed if I couldn’t,” Stirling said. “Recovery is about three months, and not one of my cardiologists has said I’m not on track. I’ll be fine to get back as long as someone wants me and I have the energy and enthusiasm, which I do. I’m sure by then I’ll be chomping at the bit.”

In the meantime, Stirling is two weeks into cardiac rehab three times a week. He walks 3-to-4 miles on his off days, rides his bike at night and has adjusted his eating habits.

“My wife’s got me on a diet I probably should have been on years ago,” Stirling said. “I’ve lost some weight, and I’m doing really well.”

And easily fitting into the T-shirts that son Todd created to chronicle his father’s coaching career: 640 games in the AHL, including 160 with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, 311 at the NCAA level, starting at Babson College in 1978, 124 in the NHL with the Islanders and 97 in Europe.

Hockey fans everywhere hope one of the game’s really good guys is behind the bench for the Senators’ opener in October.

MACTAVISH NAMED WOLVES COACH

As expected, former Rangers forward and assistant coach and Edmonton Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish was named coach of the Chicago Wolves.

MacTavish becomes the eighth coach in Wolves history and brings 11 years of NHL coaching experience to the bench of the new top affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, including leading the Oilers to the 2006 Stanley Cup finals.

“We are extremely pleased to welcome Craig MacTavish to our organization,” Wolves general manager Wendell Young said. “This is an exciting time for the Wolves, between our new affiliation with Vancouver, a new group of players and now a new head coach in Craig MacTavish, and we are very much looking forward to seeing it all come together when the team hits the ice this season.”

MacTavish,, 52, has a 301-252-47-56 record in eight seasons (2000-09) as coach of the Oilers. The native of London, Ontario, also was as an assistant coach with the Oilers (1999-2000) and Rangers (1997-99) before taking over heading coaching duties in Edmonton.

A veteran of 1,093 NHL games as a player with the Boston Bruins (1979-1984), Oilers (1985-94), Rangers (1994), Philadelphia Flyers (1994-96), and St. Louis Blues (1996-97), MacTavish had 213 goals and 267 assists in 17 seasons. He won four Stanley Cup titles, three with the Oilers (1987, 1998, 1990) and one with the Rangers (1994).

After being drafted by the Bruins in 1978, MacTavish played parts of three seasons in the AHL with the Binghamton Dusters (1979-80), Springfield Indians (1980-81) and Erie Blades (1981-82). MacTavish, who spent the last two seasons as an analyst for the NHL on TSN, replaces Don Lever, whose contract was not renewed following last season, when the Wolves were affiliated with the former Atlanta Thrashers, now Winnipeg Jets.

NEW AHL FRANCHISE TO BE CALLED ICECAPS

The new AHL franchise in Newfoundland and Labrador will be called the St. John’s IceCaps.

“I am so pleased to present the St. John’s IceCaps and our new logo to fans as we begin a new era of professional hockey in the province,” IceCaps president and chief executive officer Danny Williams said. “The IceCaps is a name that I am confident hockey fans will support as it captures both our rich hockey history with a reference to the Caps, while at the same time capturing a natural element that is iconic for the province, ice. We wanted to ensure that, although the team is based in our capital city, the province as a whole can identify with it and embrace it as their own.”

The team’s logo consists of “IceCaps” over rugged mountains, which are capped with ice that is an illustrative map of Newfoundland and Labrador. The colors are reflective of those used in the logo of the parent team, the Winnipeg Jets.

Known for its tough but resilient northern climate, Newfoundland and Labrador has strong ties to ice in many forms. From the iconic majestic iceberg, which attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists a year, to ocean exploration and ice capped landscapes, the association of the word to a sport that is played on an ice surface was a natural fit in naming the team. “Caps” not only perfectly complements the name in the literal translation of an icecap, it is also pays tribute to the St. John’s Caps, a Newfoundland Amateur Hockey Association team that played in the former provincial senior hockey league.

Glenn Williams, the team’s AHL governor and CEO, said it was important to him to ensure the province was represented well in the new name and logo as it will be a marketing tool for Newfoundland and Labrador in 29 other AHL cities. He also announced the team’s home opener will be Oct. 14 at Mile One Centre and four new members of the club’s staff. Don Power joins the team as the communications director, Brian Rogers will be the broadcaster, Alain Chabbert the team athletic therapist and Ian Cox the equipment manager.

BARR NAMED DEVILS ASSISTANT; ZARISE SIGNS FOR ONE YEAR

Former Rangers and Hartford Whalers wing Dave Barr has been named an assistant coach of the New Jersey Devils, who signed star left wing Zach Parise to a one-year, $6 million contract to avoid a salary arbitration hearing scheduled for Wednesday. Barr had 128 goals and 204 assists in 614 NHL games with six teams before ending his playing career as a player-assistant with the International Hockey League’s Orlando Solar Bears for two seasons (1995-96 and 1996-97).

Barr, who had been an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche (July 2008-June 2009) and Minnesota Wild (July 2009-April 2011), will assist Peter DeBoer, who was named Devils head coach July 19 after being fired by the Florida Panthers on April and replaced by former Whalers right wing and captain Kevin Dineen on June 1. Barr previously was an assistant and head coach of the Houston Aeros (2000-01) before the IHL folded and the Aeros were one of six teams to joined the AHL. He was general manager of the Aeros for two seasons (2001-03), including winning the Calder Cup in 2003. He then was general manager and then GM/coach of the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League from 2003–08, where his team won the OHL championship in 2003-04 and Barr earned the Matt Leyden Trophy for Coach of the Year in 2005–06.

Barr was named coach of Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team for the 2007 Under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. Barr left the OHL to become an assistant coach for the Avalanche in 2008, but following a disappointing year in which they finished last in the NHL’s Western Conference, the Avalanche cleaned house and fired their entire coaching staff. On July 3, 2009, the Wild hired Barr as an assistant, but he and head coach Todd Richards were fired April 11.

Parise’s new contract assured he is in the fold for the upcoming season, and Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record in New Jersey that the sides will continue to try for a long-term deal. Parise, 27, earned $5 million last season, when he was limited to 13 games and three goals by a knee injury that required surgery. He had been the catalyst of the Devils’ offense the previous four seasons with 146 goals.

According to the rules of the current collective bargaining agreement, Parise cannot sign another deal with the Devils until Jan. 1. The parties can negotiate a deal at any time and agree to terms, but it cannot become official until Jan. 1.

Even with the one-year deal in place, Parise remains on schedule to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

“Once you go to arbitration, you can only get a one-year situation in this case,” Lamoriello told Gulitti. “So really what we have done is avoid arbitration by settling on one year with the understanding and intent to take whatever time is necessary to get a long-term deal.”

Parise had told NHL.com that he wanted a long-term deal and had mixed emotions about the arbitration hearing in Toronto. Both sides agree the one-year deal not only avoids the potential for hard feelings that sometimes arises from the naturally contentious arbitration hearing but also buys both sides time to iron a long-term deal.

“It’s a one-year deal that currently makes sense for both the player and the club,” Parise’s agent, Wade Arnott told Gulitti. “That’s how I’d characterize it.”

The Devils filed for team-elected arbitration June 17 to prevent Parise from being able to field offer sheets from other teams when he became a restricted free agent July 1. Parise was the final free agent on the Devils’ docket, and Lamoriello had a bit more financial leeway with which to negotiate the deal after he cleared nearly $3 million in salary cap space when he traded wing Brian Rolston to the New York Islanders the previous day for former Sound Tigers wing Trent Hunter.

But the Devils waived Hunter and defenseman Colin White on Monday, and both cleared Tuesday so they can be bought out by Wednesday at two-thirds salary, spread over the remainder of their contracts, clearing about $5.8 million in cap room. White’s $3.3 million final year would become a $1 million cap hit for this season and next, while Hunter’s final two years at $2 million per would become a hit of $667,000 for each of four years. So the Devils will have about $3.34 million in cap space if they buy out both White and Hunter now that they cleared waivers.

Now, instead of worrying about being able to start the season or use a short bench as they did last season, the Devils could go on a preseason spending spree or wait. They will have about $3.34 million in salary cap space if they buy out both White and Hunter now that they cleared waivers. The transformation began with the trade of Rolston ($5 million hit) for Hunter. Before that, they faced an $8 million hit on Rolston and White, but the buyouts of White and Hunter would leave only a $1.67 million cap liability, about $6.33 million in cap savings, which was useful since signing Parise. If either White or Hunter is bought out, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

White, 33, became a Devils regular late in the 2000 season when Lyle Odelein was traded to the Coyotes and had 20 goals, 105 assists and 548 penalty minutes in 743 games. He was a second-round pick in 1996 and won the Stanley Cup with the Devils in 2000 and 2003. His departure leaves the Devils with only goalie Martin Brodeur (three) and forward Patrik Elias (two) as players who have won the Stanley Cup in New Jersey. White resumed his career in 2007 after losing most of the sight in his eye after being struck by a puck in practice.

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