To say there’s hype for Thursday’s matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders would be an understatement.
For many fans on Long Island, retribution is coming. This is their first chance to bid a not-so-fond greeting to one John Tavares, the superstar and supposed hero they believe abandoned them when he accepted a trade to somewhere in Canada. That put him on a fast track to the sort of unbridled hatred that seems sure to await him at the Nassau Coliseum.
Think that’s an exaggeration? You haven’t been paying attention.
Many of the Islanders’ faithful are still beyond bitter at the “betrayal” and a video put together by a group of fans, a sort of #DearJohn letter, is the icing on the rancorous cake.
In it, fans carry on about the disloyal Tavares. They call him “Pajama Boy,” presumably an insult because he had the audacity to sleep in Maple Leafs PJs as a kid.
“Every time he touches the puck, we’ll let that traitor know you can’t treat New Yorkers that way,” said one fan, presumably without a clue as to how professional sports work. “You can’t lead us down the garden path and say you want to retire an Islander and then pull the rug out from under us. Actually, I can’t talk to you anymore because I have to rest my voice for him.”
Look, feelings of betrayal are common when players once thought to be lifelong compatriots head for somewhat greener pastures. What’s happening on Long Island is nothing new, nothing overly remarkable.
But it’s kind of unique to the modern era, an era in which many franchise players – Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin – have been largely able to maintain tenancy with the same team. Contracts have been made and the locals have, for the most part, been satisfied.
In the case of Tavares, betrayal comes into the picture because he chose someone else. Like jilted lovers, the fanbase will take to the barn on Thursday to show their entitled ex just what they think of him. They’ll boo the living daylights out of him. Maybe more. That’s why security’s been beefed up ahead of the contest.
Lou Lamoriello tried to calm the fury on the radio Tuesday. “Let’s put it this way: I hope it’s rethought,” he said. “I hope it’s the respect he should be getting. I do understand the passion that the fans have…we’re talking about a quality human being who served his years here extremely well, and I hope that’s taken into consideration.”
Not likely. Islanders fans are already aware that the Maple Leafs have landed in Long Island, that “snake” Tavares among them. And they’re more than ready to unburden themselves of all that pain and suffering as soon as the puck drops Thursday.
(Photo credit: Sportsnet)