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Clark Gillies: Mistakes were made by John Tavares, Islanders that led to former captain's departure

Gillies excoriated Tavares’ handling of his impending free agency as he and fellow Islanders icon Butch Goring regaled fans at Newsday in an event dedicated to the franchise on the eve of its return to the postseason.

Islanders legends Clark Gillies and Butch Goring speak

Islanders legends Clark Gillies and Butch Goring speak during a Newsday Live event at Newsday Headquarters on the evening of April 8, 2019. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

“Somebody made a mistake.”

Those four words were the summary judgment of Islanders star and Hockey Hall of Famer Clark Gillies about John Tavares’ July departure for Toronto after nine seasons with the Islanders.

Gillies excoriated Tavares’ handling of his impending free agency as he and fellow Islanders icon Butch Goring regaled fans at Newsday on Monday in an event dedicated to the franchise on the eve of its return to postseason action this week against Pittsburgh.

“John Tavares told the Islanders in April, when the trade deadline rolled around, ‘I don’t want to be traded.’ [Former general manager] Garth Snow knew exactly what he was supposed to do: If he hasn’t signed at the trading deadline, we need to trade him,” Gillies said. “We can’t take the chance he’s not coming back . . . because we’ll get nothing.”

Gillies said the Islanders’ desire to re-sign their star prevailed, though. No deal was made, and Tavares signed with the Maple Leafs on July 1.

Toronto finished three points behind the Islanders and Goring said “the fact that he left [and] everybody said ‘they are no good anymore’ . . . was a huge motivational factor for the guys that stayed behind.”

“He screwed the team out of getting a first- or second-round draft pick at the trading deadline,” Gillies said. “They could have traded him to a contender.”

“Forget what a great young man he is — and I think he is a great young man — I think he made a huge mistake and it cost this franchise. It probably set us back a couple years.”

The Islanders event was the third in the Newsday Live series, with a fourth being planned for June. Newsday publisher Debby Krenek said the innovation is “designed to bring you closer to conversations and topics that are really important to Long Island.”

Looking ahead, Goring said the franchise under GM Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz reminds him of the period of time when the Islanders rounded into an organization that would win four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83 under Bill Torrey and Al Arbour.

Looking back, Gillies said the dynasty’s end in the 1984 Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers was curious as the Islanders sought to tie the Montreal Canadiens’ record of five straight titles. The NHL changed the series format that season to have the middle three games in one city, and Edmonton won all three at home to win the Cup.

“NHL offices were in Montreal and the only team to win five in a row were the Montreal Canadiens,” he said. “Somebody said something to someone and they made the change.”

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