NEW YORK — Jon Ledecky pumped his fist in celebration when Jean-Gabriel Pageau doubled the New York Islanders’ lead in the third period of what ultimately was a 4-0 win against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Second Round on Monday.
“In Lou we trust, baby!” the Islanders co-owner said, praising the work of Lou Lamoriello, the man he and partner Scott Malkin hired to take over as general manager on May 22, 2018.
The Islanders led 2-0 at the time on goals from Pageau and defenseman Andy Greene, the two players they acquired prior to the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24.
Ledecky gushed at the work of goalie Semyon Varlamov, who was in the process of his second straight shutout and extending his streak without allowing a goal to 136:20, the second longest during the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Islanders history after Billy Smith had a streak of 136:59 in 1980, coincidentally the start of their dynasty that featured four consecutive championships.
“Man, Varly’s in a zone, isn’t he?” Ledecky said, watching the events taking place in Toronto, the hub city for the East.
Ledecky’s entire team appears to be, led by coach Barry Trotz, who was hired two weeks after leading the Capitals to a Stanley Cup championship in 2018. Some may be surprised at how quickly Lamoriello and Trotz have turned the Islanders around — they’re in the second round of the playoffs for a second straight season — but don’t put Ledecky in that group.
“I think when you hire arguably one of the great general managers in the history of the sport, a Hall of Famer, and you hire a coach who just won the Stanley Cup and they’re in sync, there’s no ceiling,” Ledecky said. “I think those guys are the best in the business, and we’re so delighted and honored and happy that they’re here and that they’re being productive. They’re pros, right? They’re the real deal. The best thing you can do as an owner is stay out of the way and let them do their magic.”
With NHL.com as his guest, Ledecky watched Game 1 from what he calls the Preview Club, a fifth-floor studio in Manhattan that provides a glimpse of what suite-holders will experience at UBS Arena, which is scheduled to be the Islanders’ new home in the fall of 2021. It’s a long time coming for the fan base, which has been hearing talk of either a refurbished Nassau Coliseum or a new arena since the mid-1980s.
But Ledecky, Malkin and their business partners found a home at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. Construction began in September 2019, and, despite the coronavirus pandemic, the arena is expected to be ready in 14 months.
“I think whatever momentum we lost we’ve made up in the last three weeks,” said Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group, a partner in UBS Arena. “I think from a timing standpoint, we still look to be on schedule for the beginning of the 2021-22 season.”
The Islanders’ postseason success resulted in a record for season ticket sales last week. They said they expect to be sold out of premium inventory by early 2021, and UBS Arena has sold more than one-third of its suite inventory in the past two weeks.
They’re quickly approaching 10,000 season tickets at their future home.
“The Islander fans have deserved a [new] home for almost 30 years that represents how they are the greatest fans in the National Hockey League,” Ledecky said. “When I walk through the stands every game, which is the greatest way to get feedback from the fans, they said the most important thing is don’t lose the intimacy of the Coliseum. We’re going to have the biggest lower bowl in the National Hockey League and we’re going to move it over to UBS Belmont.
“But we’re going to leave behind the 20-minute waits for a cold hot dog and the 20-minute waits for the bathroom and really replace it with a state-of-the-art in every respect possible.”
And when Ledecky was asked what kind of emotions he’ll feel when UBS Arena opens its doors, he struggled to sum it up.
“Amazing, emotional, well-deserved for the fans, scintillating, electric, those are the kinds of things that pop into my head,” Ledecky said. “Wonderful, fabulous, stupendous. It’s going to be a special, special night.”
UBS Arena will be an upgrade for the players too; they’ve shuffled between Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center since the start of the 2015-16 season but will soon be surrounded by first-class amenities. The appreciation Ledecky has for the players and coaching staff is mutual.
“Our ownership group has been absolutely fantastic ever since I’ve arrived on the island,” Trotz said Monday. “The support they give the players and Lou is undeniable, and our players feel that.
“They’ve been great. You get the texts after the series wins, but the great thing about ownership I think is they just allow you [to do your jobs], to give you all the resources to have success, and they’ve done that. They support you at the right times and don’t get in the way and then do the things that is necessary for winning and a winning organization. We’re really blessed to have them as ownership.”
But while the Islanders count down the days to opening their new home and see season-ticket sales soar, there was one number Ledecky was most focused on after the win against the Flyers in Game 1.
“Eleven more,” Ledecky said. “That’s the magic number.”