Bryan Trottier lives near Pittsburgh and has not been an Islander since 1990, but he said that he and many of his former teammates continue to root for the team in general, and a certain player in particular.
“We hope [John] Tavares stays with us forever and dies an Islander,” Trottier said of the captain and free-agent-to-be Tuesday night at a Paley Center event in Manhattan to mark the NHL’s 100th anniversary. “It just should be . . . He wears the ‘C ‘so well.”
Trottier recalled an Islanders-Wild game in St. Paul, Minnesota, last month that his son and grandchildren attended. Trottier, an Islander for 15 seasons and four Stanley Cups, arranged with the team to have his family meet players after the game.
“So I’m pumping up Tavares and all the guys,” Trottier said. “My [9-year-old] grandson calls me up after and says, ‘Grandpa! John Tavares is way nicer than you told us.’ Isn’t that a compliment? He was totally blown out of the water by how nice and genuine he was. That’s what you want to hear . . . That was special.”
It also reflected the ongoing connection many Islanders alumni have to the organization, even if it is from afar. That includes rooting for co-owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky to succeed, among other things with a long-term arena solution, one that might help persuade Tavares to stick around, too.
“They want first class,” Trottier said. “They want tradition. They want current. They want everything to be state of the art, and I think that’s awesome. The fans want that, too.
“We pull for everyone on the team with all our might, so anything they do that brings back the Islander tradition, that brings back a sense of commitment, a sense that they want a championship, we’re all for it. Wherever they choose [to play], we support it.”
The latest push is to get approval to build near Belmont Park. The Islanders have said they will play at the Barclays Center through the 2018-19 season. After that it is unclear where they will land.
“It’s been an interesting ride,” said former Islander Pat LaFontaine, who also attended Tuesday’s event. “I don’t know everything that’s happening.” He half-jokingly added, “But I can say this: We’re establishing fan bases in a lot of different areas. Just keep moving them along.
“Look, at the end of the day I think you want stability and you want consistency and it just sounds like that’s what they’re trying to achieve, and I think for the fans that’s the hope.”
Before the event NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told Newsday he is “wholly, fully, unequivocally supportive of the Belmont effort.” Later in the evening, an Islanders fan asked him about the arena situation during a question-and-answer panel.
“The answer to the question, quite simply, is Scott Malkin, who’s the principal owner of the Islanders, will tell you, he bought the Islanders to have a franchise in New York and he’s committed to getting a new arena,” Bettman said. “Belmont would be perfect. Brooklyn has had its issues.”
When the audience laughed knowingly, Bettman said, “You know what? They needed a place to go, and it’s great that Barclays was there, because Nassau Coliseum was well past its due date.
“And so they’re committed to getting a new arena, and they’re focused on getting the right to build an arena at Belmont, and if they do that will reconnect the Islanders with their fan base on Long Island and be more proximate to New York City. It will be the best of all worlds, and that’s what they’ve spent lots and lots of money in pursuit of, and they’re still pursuing it.
“I know you see in the media, oh, it’s going to move. They didn’t buy the club to move the franchise somewhere else. They’re New Yorkers. They bought it for New York.”