Since signing a seven-year, $77 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1st, John Tavares has taken a lot of heat. Fans have been seen posting videos of themselves burning their New York Islanders Tavares jerseys and calling him a coward and a traitor. MSG Networks has even put up an article saying he couldn’t handle the Islanders challenge and took the easy way out. While fans may feel this way after losing their franchise player, and one of the best to ever play for their organization, the claims are completely unwarranted.
Losing your top player is a tough pill to swallow. Especially through free agency when there is no return for him. It’s an unfortunate part of the business that fans hate to go through. Die-hard fans get emotionally attached to players. Especially elite players like Tavares, who was drafted by the Islanders first overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and spent nine years with the club. Five of which he served as the teams’ captain. While it’s understandable that some fans would be upset, the bashing of Tavares is completely unfair. He paid his dues. He gave everything he had for the organization. Who’s really to blame for Tavares leaving? The Islanders organization themselves.
Nine Years of Service
John Tavares spent nine seasons with the New York Islanders. The team drafted in first overall in 2009. He made the club right out of training camp where he put up 54 points in 82 games. After playing out the second year of his three year entry-level contract, Tavares decided to lock up long-term with the Islanders, signed a very cap friendly six-year, $33 million deal. Guaranteeing his services to the club until the end of the 2017-2018 NHL season. At that time Tavares said, “This was more about me being happy to be an Islander, and wanting to be here for a long time.” He wasn’t lying. Spending nine years with a club is a long time. It’s basically half his career. He was their best player during his stint with the club and showed up every single night. He paid his dues with the Islanders.
No Support Equals No Success
In the nine years that Tavares spent with the Islanders, he wasn’t given a real chance to win. The Islanders only made the playoffs three times over the nine-year span, and only one playoff series win. The only forward of significance that GM Garth Snow acquired over that time, was when he traded for Jordan Eberle last summer. While the Islanders were one of the highest scoring teams in the league last season, finishing seventh, they also allowed the most goals against in the entire league. Snow never assembled a competitive team for Tavares to play with. While they do have promising young players in Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Ryan Pulock as well as recently drafted Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson, there is still a lot of gaping holes on the club and no sign as to when they will be filled.
The Firing of Head Coach Doug Weight and Garth Snow
As the season ended, the Islanders decided to hire Lou Lamoriello as president of hockey operations. Just two weeks after being hired, Lamoriello decided to fire head coach Doug Weight and GM Garth Snow, as well as name himself as GM of the club. Many fans would have wanted Snow fired years ago but to fire him right before extending Tavares is extremely confusing.
Tavares said when Weight was hired as the head coach that “I know how hard he worked, how committed he was, how much he cared about our team.” He went on to say “There’s a comfort level there, instead of someone else coming in. You don’t know how [a coach from the outside] is, how he does certain things.” Those statements speak volumes of how Tavares felt about Weight. He lived with Doug Weight for a couple of years and spoke to him two or three times a week even before being hired as the Head Coach. Weight expressed his love for Tavares and called him the hardest working player at practice and a huge presence in the room. His firing would be a very unpopular decision when trying to re-sign the clubs superstar forward.
Fulfilling His Dream
Growing up every kid who plays hockey dreams of winning the Stanley Cup. Winning it with your favourite team is even more special. Tavares now has the chance to do both. Tavares, who is from the Toronto area, grew up a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He also lives in Toronto during the off-season. When the opportunity arose to join his childhood favourite team, who have put together a very strong group led by young stars Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, Tavares can now make his dream a reality. The Leafs finished tied for sixth in points with the Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals. Adding a player of John Tavares’ calibre certainly makes the club even stronger. It’s not about the money for Tavares. He certainly could have got more elsewhere. It’s about fulfilling his longtime dream of winning a cup with the Leafs. You can’t fault a man for that.
When considering all these points, the bashing of John Tavares certainly seems unfair. He paid his dues with the Islanders. He gave them nine years to put together a cup contender and they failed him. They made some very questionable decisions leading up to trying to re-sign him which could have potentially put the final nail in the coffin for him leaving. The main goal when playing in the NHL is to one day be able to raise the Stanley Cup. At this point in time, Tavares felt his best chance at doing that was with the Maple Leafs. Instead of pointing fingers at John, and calling him a coward or a traitor, maybe we should look at the Islanders management group instead. They are the real ones to blame.
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