The John Tavares era is over for the New York Islanders and the hangover is a doozy.
Like any bad breakup, the reaction from Islanders fans is both demonstrative and completely understandable. They did, after all, bear witness to their apparent franchise player walking out the door for nothing. They expected devotion from their guy and they found out that his allegiance lies with the Toronto Maple Leafs, a childhood dream become reality.
In that sense, what happened on Canada Day was a crushing blow.
And many, myself included, believed that Tavares would remain an Islander despite the tumult of his environment.
It was not to be.
Tavares’ exodus has meant the burning of sweaters in melodramatic videos and pandemonium from the fanbase seldom seen in modern sports because this type of thing so seldom happens nowadays. Most teams can hold on to their superstars long enough to sate the crowd, but Long Island had no such luck and the theatrics are intense.
Consider, too, that Arthur Staple’s piece in The Athletic mentions an Islander who said he didn’t blame fans for incinerating their Tavares sweaters and the picture deepens: this is a suffering team in tough territory.
The Islanders have been through it and then some.
They’re adrift in the NHL right now, with aeons of Garth Snow bedlam still playing in the rearview mirror. The Charles Wang era still burns, with ownership squabbles and disadvantageous hires dotting the countryside. And the Islanders have just the one playoff series win in, oh, 25 years. Add to that the reality that Scott Malkin was purportedly behind Tavares not being traded at the deadline.
You could make the case that Long Island fans are used to disappointment. But this one hurts to the core, with Tavares so clearly and so elementally making another choice. There was nothing Lou Lamoriello or Barry Trotz could do about it. The pitch was strong and many in the media were fooled into thinking conventional wisdom would rule the day.
The best news is perhaps that the Islanders have a lot of cap space to work with and could make some moves. They already signed Leo Komarov to a, uh, curious contract right out of the box. It was perhaps a reactionary move, picking up a former Maple Leaf to make up for the Tavares departure to the Six.
They’ll need a starting goalie, for one. Thomas Greiss isn’t proven at the position and Jaroslav Halak is out in Boston now.
They also need to focus on the pieces they do have, like Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee. The latter scored 40 goals in 2017-2018 (no, really) and should be able to work well under Trotz. He’s eligible for an extension, so the Islanders will sign him to something if they’re smart.
These days, however, that’s still looking like an awfully big “if.”