Can you blame him? Disappointment and other emotions aside, and despite the fact that it feels like one giant slap in the face to Islanders fans and Long Island in general right now, can you honestly blame John Tavares for wanting to go home and finally have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup?
His departure from the team to which he had pledged allegiance was nine years in the making. He stoically had endured turmoil, dysfunction and bad ice and genuinely seemed to believe the constant promises that the Islanders would be a real ly good team someday. But someday never arrived. He grew tired of waiting, even when it was Lou Lamoriello making the promises.
The Maple Leafs, in contrast, might compete for the Cup next season, or the next seven.
OK, Tavares does deserve a rap on the knuckles for leading the Islanders on, sending signals that he wanted to stay without backing it up with a signed contract. And no kudos for dragging this out so long, leaving the Islanders twisting in the wind and giving them almost no time to recoup. There was no consolation in his heartfelt “thank you” to the Island during his first Maple Leafs news conference Sunday afternoon (good work by a Toronto reporter, asking Tavares about the pain he leaves behind).
So just as Tavares had the right to test the waters and make the plunge, fans have every right to boo and blame him. Just don’t forget there is plenty of blame to go around. Starting right at the very top.
Blame Gary Bettman.
The commissioner and newly minted Hall of Famer helped damage the Islanders’ brand by being such a facilitator and cheerleader for the move to Brooklyn. At the news conference in 2012, Bettman called Barc lays Center “a magnificent arena” and assured fans, “You’ll be able to get to it easily.” Funny, but I never saw him shivering on the platform at Jamaica, waiting for the connection to Ronkonkoma. Not so funny: In an interview on WFAN this past April, he said Barclays was not a good fit, adding, “Getting there, especially during the week, isn’t the easiest thing to do.” No kidding.
Blame Charles Wang.
The previous owner arranged the Brooklyn boondoggle with no regard to the fact that it was going to be an enormous pain in the neck for anyone who plays for or roots for the Islanders. Notice that free agents have not flocked there. Worse yet, if reports are true that Wang signed Garth Snow to an exorbitant and lengthy contract, he handcuffed his successors (and business partners, considering he retained a share of the franchise).
Blame Nassau County politicians for bungling the Nassau Coliseum issue for years.
Blame Scott Malkin. The London-based principal owner (he, not Jon Ledecky, is cited by hockey people as the decision-maker) waited far too long to replace Snow. It took a billboard-backed public outcry to get him to see the light. Hiring Lamoriello and Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz in May and June, respectively, was comparable to pulling the goalie when you’re down by two in the final minute. Too late.
Look, we all learned from the Sandy Alderson situation to separate the person from the performance. Garth really is a nice guy. And we do not know what constraints he faced in terms of budget and arena logistics. Having said that, though, the general manager had nine years to build a team around Tavares and never did it. He stockpiled draft picks for a rainy day that never came. He inflicted the star with one neophyte coach after another. Ultimately, Snow wasted the best years of a potential Hall of Famer’s career.
Unlike the aforementioned, Tavares regularly faced the music. Night in and night out, he stood at his locker stall and answered questions about the mediocre team that ownership and management had assembled. He accepted blame over and over, even when he was nowhere near responsible.
It would be unfair to blame Lamoriello, given his short time here. Still, his record with the Islanders is 0-1-0, and that “L” has to sting. Weeks after he was let go by the Maple Leafs, Lamoriello was beaten in the Tavares sweepstakes by the people who dispatched and replaced him.
Here’s hoping that energizes Lamoriello and makes him live up to the lavish praise we have all been heaping on him. Lamoriello has replaced Tavares as the face of the franchise. It will serve the Islanders well if he handles the role with the same grace, and with many more wins.