By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The first major pro sports event at the Barclays Center, albeit an exhibition hockey game between the Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders, is under threat of postponement due to the looming NHL lockout.
Scheduled for Oct. 2, one day short of a month before the Brooklyn Nets host the New York Knicks in the much-anticipated NBA regular-season opener at the state-of-the-art arena on the corners of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, the Devils-Islanders game could be pushed back or cancelled all together if the NHL Players' Union and league hierearchy don't come to an agreement before training camps are scheduled to open on Sept. 15.
Making matters even more tenuous, the players and owners have cut off talks since last Friday, when NHL Players' Association executive director Don Fehr announced that the league had asked that talks be ''recessed" for the time being.
''Unfortunately, so far at least, that proposal we made today did not bear fruit," Fehr told the Associated Press last week.
''Basically, they stood by their initial deal,'' NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman added. ''They didn't make an offer. ... (They) weren't prepared to discuss core economics.''
While players and owners haggle over revenue sharing, the NHL could be facing its fourth labor stoppage in the last two decades. The last one wiped out the entire 2004-05 season, something both sides would like to avert in the coming weeks.
According to the AP, the NHLPA's latest offer came three days after the NHL made its first counterproposal last Tuesday. After asking the players to cut their share of hockey revenue from 57 to 43 percent, the NHL upped its proposal to have the players get a 46 percent share over a six-year deal.
The union revised its initial offer by proposing to restructure the fourth and final year of its first offer. The NHLPA was willing to give back between $465 million and $800 million in revenue over the first three years of the deal so long as the system switched back to the existing agreement in the fourth year.
The result of this mind-numbing number-swapping?: No deal, and potentially no preseason game at Barclays, which has expressed a not-so-veiled interest in luring the Islanders here from the Nassau Coliseum once their lease at the outdated building runs out in 2015.
“I think it is highly likely there won’t be a new arena built in Nassau County with the current state of the economy,” Barclays majority owner Bruce Ratner noted last September. “So I think there is certainly a chance (for Brooklyn to get the Islanders).”
The NHLPA has scheduled an executive board meeting in New York for Sept. 12-13, just days before the current collective bargaining agreement runs out.
Though a preseason game is hardly of chief concern during these ongoing negotations, the Isles-Devils exhibition could provide an important platform for Barclays execs to prove they are capable of hosting an NHL franchise.
“We feel Brooklyn is an untapped hockey market that offers the Islanders an exciting opportunity to grow its fan base,” Barclays CEO Brett Yormark said in a statement upon announcing the exhibition game.“Barclays Center will also afford current Islander fans with great accessibility, as the Long Island Rail Road and nine subway lines will come directly to the arena at the Atlantic Terminal transit hub.”
Beginning Sept. 28, when hip-hop legend and Nets minority owner Jay-Z opens Barclays with a series of concerts, the 18,300-seat arena will officially be open for business. Whether the Devils and Islanders get to skate there a week later is as up in the air as whether or not the NHL will have a season at all in 2012-13.