John Tavares ended his nine-year tenure with the New York Islanders and fanbase that embraced him since the beginning of his NHL career.John, the root of the problem is not that you left, it’s how you handled the entire transition through a full calendar year.
It was by around 10 p.m. ET on June 30 when the reality slowly began sinking its deep claws into the hearts of fans everywhere, by which time I had started grieving. The deadline to sign a deal with an eight-year term had come and gone, and the odds of you staying with the Islanders vanished.
Some chose to hang onto the slim bit of hope that the decision was just that difficult that you needed another day to think it over and take the seven-year deal with the Islanders.
Call it pessimism, call it whatever you want. I knew you were gone.
At that moment, you chose to leave the community that brought you into the NHL, fostered you as you developed your elite talents in the league, and right up until then, adamantly made an attempt to entice you to return, whether it was a lifetime supply of bagels or beer.
Hockey is a game, and like any of the other professional sports played around the world, it’s also a business, first and foremost. You needed to make a life-altering decision and one that can only be made once in your life while you’re at the prime of your career as the NHL’s most sought-after free agent.
As an NHL free agent, you absolutely have the right to make that choice. What you didn’t have to do, however, was rope the Islanders organization throughout the entirety of the 2017-18 season, telling every media outlet that asked that you intended to stay, and take until quite literally the last possible second to tell the organization that drafted you, molded you, raised you and retained you at the trade deadline, they’re out.
When you detail how excruciating the entire morning had been, lying on the couch for hours in a cloud of thought, motionless and in distress, I’m inclined to believe you.
But what I, as well as thousands, if not millions of other people can’t believe, is that you waited until the listening period to seriously sit down and consider this decision that will now impact the most important aspect of your life & career.
These decisions aren’t made in the span of a month, a few weeks, and definitely not in a few days.
This decision is one that, whether you knew it or not, was in the back of your head since you were draft-eligible for the NHL. “What if I played for the Toronto Maple Leafs?” Of course, you were patient with the Islanders and did them a huge favor in taking the contract that is just now expiring, taking an absolutely laughable bargain of a deal at $5.5 million for the last seven years.
First and foremost, before any more is said, you should know that you have my thanks for the nine years you gave to the Islanders. Though there are implications all over your legacy as an Islander, the memory of Game 6 from 2016 is one of my favorite memories as a hockey fan. For that and much more, I thank you.
No matter how it’s broken down, the fact remains that you were unsure of what the future would hold from the moment you declined to sign an extension on July 1 of last year.
Whether you intended to or not, you did make a decision.
What did all of the reports truly mean when you kept saying how much you wanted to be back and how you wanted it to work out here? You deliberately lied when you said you hadn’t thought of playing anywhere else, highlighted moments after you signed your shiny, new contract with the infamous “pajama boy” tweet.
I want to believe you when you said those things, but logic dictates otherwise.
Playing for the Leafs was always in the back of your mind, whether consciously or not. You could have made things simpler when asked about your situation, you could have told them you hadn’t been considering it and had no indication one way or the other of where you’d wind up. But you were adamant about your desire to stay, and when it mattered most, you left.
Perhaps if the management in place had more foresight, the blow of your departure could have been softer if you really sat down to talk about what’s best for the team, specifically at the trade deadline. Perhaps if management had capitalized on your time here, the Islanders wouldn’t even be in this situation.
But the reality is what it is, and come October you will don the Blue & White for your childhood Maple Leafs after telling anyone who would ask how much you wanted to stay an Islander for life.
So farewell, John. Enjoy your time in Toronto, and the remainder of your career with your childhood team.
I hope it will all be worth it.