Five weeks couldn’t change nine years.
None of the changes the Islanders made, not Lou Lamoriello or Barry Trotz, could keep John Tavares on Long Island — or Brooklyn. Instead Tavares is going home, the Ontario native opting to live out his “childhood dream” by signing with his hometown Maple Leafs on a seven-year, $77 million contract, crushing Islanders fans’ hearts and the franchise’s hope to contend in the near future.
There’s anger from fans directed at Tavares after he at times expressed a desire to remain with the Islanders, but the fault lies with the Islanders, who during Garth Snow’s tenure as general manager before Lamoriello relieved Snow of his duties won just one playoff series and did not provide Tavares enough of a reason to believe that the team was in the best position to win.
By mistakingly letting the situation get to this point, the Islanders lose their franchise player with nothing to show for it. Tavares’ desire to take a wait-and-see approach and not commit to the Islanders’ future should’ve been the impetus for a trade at this year’s deadline.
Lamoriello, who left the Maple Leafs for the Islanders only to see Tavares go to Toronto, wasn’t enough. Trotz wasn’t enough. A new Belmont arena still years away from completion wasn’t enough. Tavares could’ve taken more money to remain with the Islanders. He wanted to return home, but he also wants a chance to drink from the Cup, and Toronto will be one of the favorites to do so.
Tavares said at a press conference Sunday that when he got home from Los Angeles after taking meetings last week with six clubs, including the Islanders, that his heart was in two places, those being Long Island and Toronto.
“My heart was tearing apart, trying to figuring out what I wanted to do,” Tavares said. “I just felt this opportunity was just so rare.”
The 27-year-old center jumps into as bright of a spotlight with as much pressure as any opportunity available to him, returning home to a franchise that has been starving for Cup glory since 1967. The narrative that Tavares relished the low-key atmosphere of Long Island and would want to remain in a similar environment was obviously overstated.
Where do the Islanders go from here? Surely Lamoriello and Trotz were hoping to have Tavares leading the way when they signed up for this. They signed Leo Komarov to a four-year, $12 million deal, which is an overpay. They have Mat Barzal. But they now have an enormous void that can’t be filled anytime soon.
“The New York Islanders would like to thank John Tavares for everything he has done for the franchise throughout the past nine seasons,” Lamoriello said in a statement. “John has achieved great individual success on the ice, as well as devoting a tremendous amount of his time and energy to the community. We wish him and his family all the best.”
All the positive vibes the Islanders developed in recent weeks have vanished. Tavares will still play at both the Barclays Center and Nassau Coliseum next season, though. After the Isles visit Toronto on Dec. 29, Tavares and the Leafs go to Brooklyn on Feb. 28 and Long Island April 1.