In the NHL record books, Thursday night’s game between the New York Islanders and visiting Toronto Maple Leafs will go down as just one of seven games on the docket. But for Islander fans, it’ll be one that will stick with them forever.
The atmosphere in NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum was electric. Fans were on their feet. At times, it was a circus. Just like playoff hockey, every shift mattered.
The Maple Leafs fell 6-1 to the Isles’ heavy, relentless forecheck. Garrett Sparks allowed all six goals, but Frederik Andersen likely wouldn’t have fared any better. The Barry Trotz-led Isles have a way of taking away time and space in the neutral zone. His system is clearly working as the team sits atop the Metropolitan Division.
Tavares Faces the Islanders on Long Island
In the crosshairs was former Islanders Captain John Tavares. This past summer, he left the team that drafted him first overall in 2009 and signed with his childhood, hometown team, the Maple Leafs. It was the first time that he faced his former team on Long Island, not to mention the fans that cheered for him for nearly a decade.
Before the game, many irate fans shared their feelings. They even burned Tavares Islander sweaters. At times it was raw and overly dramatic. A local television station even created an over-the-top video featuring fans’ and their hurt feelings.
As he stepped foot on the ice in warmups, the cheers and jeers erupted one after another. There were “we don’t need you” and “you’re a liar” chants. “Barzy’s better” and “who’s your daddy” serenades. And “past your bed-time”, “where’s your jammies”, “that’s our captain” (after current Isles captain Anders Lee scored the go-ahead goal), and many other chants, not suitable for publication. They continued throughout the game.
Failing to Sign an Extension
The Isles failed to sign Tavares to a contract extension. While both parties claim to have had interest in a deal, whether an offer was ever tendered is not known. Few people outside of Tavares’ agent Pat Brisson and Islanders General Manager Garth Snow can say for sure.
But even without a deal in place, Tavares was fully “prepared to forfeit a shot at free agency” and stay with the Isles. Perhaps the luster from Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz’s combined four Stanley Cup rings caught his eye.
He wanted to believe in the future — on Long Island — so much so that he was prepared to sign after going through the entire 2017-18 season without an extension. He was that committed. –Larry Brooks of the New York Post
Once Brisson convinced Tavares to meet with other teams and hear their pitches, it was the beginning of the end for his career on Long Island. By that time, the Isles who had lost any leverage and blown their chance to sign him.
J.T. couldn’t resist the urge to play for the team he rooted for while growing up. The hefty seven-year, $77 million contract from the Maple Leafs was icing on the cake.
Isles Fans Felt Betrayed
Tavares can’t be faulted for working the system and accepting a boatload of money by his hometown team.
It was the way it all played out–the way Tavares did it–that left fans feeling betrayed and steaming mad. Had he left a reasonable amount of doubt that he was undecided or that he wanted to explore free agency, the Isles would have likely traded him. Fans, while unhappy, would have gotten over it. They could understand and respect his desire to play in front of his hometown family and friends.
Related: Toronto Maple Leafs’ 50-Goal Scorers
Instead, he adamantly, consistently and persistently stated through the trade deadline that he wanted to stay. He said that he loved the Isles and their fans. And then, he abruptly left the franchise with nothing to show for itself as he walked away from the Great White Way. His post with pictures of himself in Maple Leaf patterned bedsheets only added a ton of salt to the gaping wound he left behind.
Worse than an asset-bare cupboard, he left fans with a broken hearts. The anger, hatred and bitterness are justifiable given they got nothing in return for their longtime franchise leader, captain and best player. He will likely forever be booed by Islander fans, much like Nashville Predator fans still give a Bronx cheer to Ryan Suter every time he touches the puck, seven years after he walked away from David Poile and the Music City.
When Hamonic Left
When Travis Hamonic asked the Isles for a trade, he was honest about his intentions. Hamonic, who grew up in the Winnipeg area, requested to be moved to a Western Canadian team prior to the 2015-16 season for personal reasons. He rescinded that request after the season, when the Islanders won a playoff round for the first time since 1993, but was ultimately traded to the Calgary Flames for a handful of high-end picks. There were no jilted feelings, and subsequently, upon Hamonic’s return visits to Long Island, he’s received nothing but love from Isles faithful.
A Cathartic Night for Islander Fans
It was a cathartic night for Islander fans who have endured questionable leadership from ownership and management for years. The intensity and passion filled the air on Long Island, rocking the 14,000-seat NYCB Live arena like a second or third-round playoff game. There hasn’t been a louder barn in the NHL this season.
— Newsday Sports (@NewsdaySports) March 1, 2019
Isles fans have suffered a lot of abuse over the years. They’ve had to deal with relocation drama, an aging, outdated arena with asbestos, the denial of a privately-financed arena and development project, and troubled ownership to name a few. Tavares played through it all. He proudly led the team through some dark times and embraced being a New York Islander. Many have rightly said Tavares was the face of the Islanders’ franchise. He’s was a class act and a good guy.
The center was the team’s heart and soul, a galvanizing presence who energized fans on a nightly basis. For one more night, he was still exactly that. He was just wearing a different uniform.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”