Whenever John Tavares has had any success, he has responded by digging in, working even harder and becoming dramatically better. By that standard, it looks like he is in for a very busy summer. And it would be good for the Islanders if the entire organization followed his lead.
Tavares and his teammates left Nassau Coliseum Tuesday, proud and motivated after their stirring run to the playoffs and inspired six-game series against the top-seeded Penguins. Much of that relates to Tavares, who emerged as one of the National Hockey League's best players after a typically intense offseason.
"I just don't want to stop here. I want to keep getting better," he said on breakup day. "It's my goal to help this team win a Stanley Cup and if I can improve myself in any way, that's what I'm going to do."
His drive was written all over a series that had the Penguins a little scared while it was going on and very impressed when it was over. It was obvious that Tavares never was content with the normal learning curve of a No. 1 overall pick. He worked like crazy and this year lifted his team and became a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL Most Valuable Player.
"Skating was a knock on him early, and he seemed to improve on that," Sidney Crosby, a fellow Hart finalist, said during the series of someone he called a "complete player."
Tavares' frequent linemate Matt Moulson said Tuesday: "He just keeps getting better at the things he's already great at, he gets better at the things he's not as good at. He's going to keep getting better because his mind-set is he wants to be the best in the world. If he's not there yet, he's going to be there pretty soon."
That should be the paradigm for the whole franchise, starting with ownership and the front office. Work harder than ever now. Management owes it to the fans to pick itself up off the salary floor and add players. The organization owes it to Tavares and his teammates, too, to bring in a veteran here and there to guide the young guys and lighten their load.
No one expects the Islanders to offer a 13-year, $98-million deal like the one Zach Parise got from the Wild last offseason. But they should realistically think along the lines of someone in the mold of J.P. Parise, Zach's dad, a solid player who helped put the Islanders on the map in 1975.
"Not a lot of free agents want to come here, but when they get here, they seem to want to stay," Matt Martin said, adding that no one will be reticent anymore.
General manager Garth Snow no longer must worry about players turning him down because of the environs. There's the prospect of Barclays Center in two years. For now, the playoffs proved that the Coliseum is, as Martin put it, "the 'funnest' place in the league to play."
This team took a huge step in the right direction the night it drafted Tavares. Fans might remember how, at the podium, Snow joked with the then-18-year-old. Snow revealed later that he told Tavares that the happiest person on Long Island would be Anthony Cancro, an Islanders fan and teaching pro at the Tam O'Shanter Club. Cancro could grow wealthy giving lessons to a hockey player who was awful at golf.
Tavares has worked hard at that, too, having improved his 19 handicap to 12.
"We'll see how I start this year. It probably won't be very good," he said, smiling, proud that his summer is beginning later.