The Islanders formally introduced Wednesday the two men who in a couple of years will take over majority control of the hockey franchise, and will be responsible for leading the team through a new era at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
But, before that happens, the Islanders still have one final season to play at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale. And the new duo—Scott Malkin and John Ledecky—will have plenty of time to listen and learn about what it takes to run a franchise that experienced incredible success three decades ago, but has failed to recapture the magic since.
“We’re going to be on a listening tour for two years,” Ledecky, the former owner of the Washington Capitals, said during a press conference at Nassau Coliseum.
The pair will take over majority control of the franchise in 2016. The team’s current owner Charles Wang, who will transition to minority owner, will call the shots until then. Wang declined to say how much the sale was worth but noted that media reports suggesting he was selling his stake from anywhere between $420 million and $518 million was close.
Malkin said he and Ledecky share a “great love for hockey”—a sport that was “fundamental in their upbringing.”
“Life has its moments of opportunity and you decide whether you’re going to step forward, and Charles gave us that opportunity and it was a privilege to be in that position,” Malkin, a London-based investor, told more than a dozen reporters in attendance. “And for us, we saw this as a moment where we could embrace things that we believed in and embrace the Islanders and what they stand for.”
The Islanders first announced the deal in August, before the NHL completed the ownership transfer.
“This isn’t about me or the Islanders or us, actually,” Wang said in his opening remarks, glancing over at Islanders general manager Garth Snow. “We found new partners here, two partners that will be great for the Islanders.”
In their first public appearance together as minority owners (for the time being), both Malkin and Ledecky called the partnership with Wang an honor, but said they’d mostly sit on the sidelines until their time comes.
Malkin appeared awe-struck at times, smiling incessantly and pledging to use the next two years to soak in as much he can. Ledecky was more audacious, twice mentioning how much he dislikes the reviled Pittsburgh Penguins and prophesying a return to the Islanders glory days, or at the very least acquiring a long-sought fifth Stanley Cup title.
The pair left no doubt that this is Wang’s franchise until the transition to majority ownership is completed.
“We support what he and Garth are doing on the ice,” Ledecky said. “We are really on a mission to learn and absorb.”
“It’s Charles’ vision it’s Charles’ team,” said Malkin.
The Islanders won four in a row to start the season but have dropped their last two games. The players were greeted to a raucous crowd when they stepped onto the ice for their final home opener at The Old Barn on Oct. 11. The Isles reciprocated by treating the home fans to a 4-3 victory over Carolina.
When Wang was asked afterward about the atmosphere at the arena so far this year, and in particular during the home opener, he smiled.
“I think it’s great, I love it,” he said. “We’re going to try to do something this year to really say this is what the Islanders are about.”
During much of Wang’s tenure, the talk among fans and the press often seesawed between the product on the ice and the fate of the franchise.
Wang’s final push came three years ago when he and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano pushed for a $400 million publicly-funded reconstruction of the aging arena, which was shot down by voters.
Wang’s ambitious Lighthouse Project, a mixed-used development plan, failed to get full support of the Town of Hempstead. Frustrated at attempts to scale it down, Wang nixed the plan.
“I’m like any other Long Islander out here, boy…I’m angry because they could’ve done something for Nassau County, it’s unbelievable we all know, but it wasn’t done,” Wang said when asked about his attempts to secure a new arena. “We can’t keep looking in the back view mirror.”
“It was a little bit of hell, but we all lived through it, it’s ok,” he added. “It wasn’t like we went in there in blind, we knew it was hard. It didn’t work. Now let’s move on.”
And the team is doing just that. Next year, Long Island’s lone professional sports team will leave Nassau County for the Barclays Center, the home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. A year after that, Malkin and Ledecky will claim majority control.
When asked what their message is to long-suffering Islanders fans, a stone-faced Malkin said: “Fifth ring.”