John Tavares has been one of the more committed NHL players to the players' association over the past few months, attending several of the collective bargaining sessions and generally being one of the young leaders in the game when it comes to the NHLPA's solidarity.
But he's a hockey player first. So his decision to sign a lockout contract with Bern of the Swiss League should not be taken as a sign that Tavares is pessimistic about the chances for a labor deal to end the 15-day lockout.
"It's the right time for me," Tavares said by phone on Friday. He leaves Monday for Switzerland, where he will team with Islanders captain Mark Streit in Bern. "This is an opportunity that may not have been there in a couple weeks. We're all still committed, we're all still as involved as we've been, but we're all players and we love to play hockey, that's what this comes down to."
As the Islanders' AHL team began its training camp on Long Island Saturday, with Isles defenseman Travis Hamonic and a host of young players who would have been vying for spots on the big club had NHL camps opened on time, Tavares is now the fourth Islander to commit to playing in Europe during the lockout.
He and Streit are in Switzerland, Lubomir Visnovsky is playing for Slovan Bratislava of the KHL and Frans Nielsen has reportedly signed with Lukko of the Finnish League, where his brother Simon plays.
"Eventually, I've got to play somewhere, with the unpredictability of the whole lockout," Tavares said. "I've never been in this situation before, but I know I need to keep playing, keep trying to improve my game. That's the challenge right now for a lot of us."
There are still several Isles veterans who may join them. Michael Grabner has been skating on Long Island, with teammates and on his own; Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Matt Martin and Evgeni Nabokov are all still working out on their own around North America. Matt Moulson, with a new baby to tend to, is also skating near home.
Andrew MacDonald, who had been skating on Long Island, said via text that he's deciding on going to Europe or playing in former Islander Bruno Gervais' barnstorming tour of Quebec.