Mark Streit made sure to have enough time in September to attend the Islanders’ “Captains retreat,” an event conceived by owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky to welcome back all 14 players who wore the “C” in franchise history.
Streit, who announced his retirement this week after 12 NHL seasons, had to get to Canadiens training camp soon after the three-day retreat but after his tenure with the Isles, from 2008-2013, he felt he needed to be there.
“It was a special event, a really good thing that the new owners put together,” Streit told Newsday. “You can see the organization is in good hands.”
That applies to the man that followed Streit as captain as well. The connection between Streit, who wasn’t drafted until he was 27 after eight pro seasons in his native Switzerland, and John Tavares, who was ticketed for NHL stardom as an adolescent, may seem tenuous at best.
But Streit and Tavares grew close during their time together on the Island. Streit became captain when Doug Weight retired following the 2010-11 season. By the time Tavares took over as captain before the 2013-14 season, after Streit departed for the Flyers, the young star had learned a lot from the well-traveled veteran defenseman.
“A guy I really look up to, not only when he was here,” Tavares said. “We got to be really close when I played with him during the lockout (for SC Bern in Switzerland). His professionalism, commitment to the game was special. I have so much respect for him.”
Streit came to the Islanders on Garth Snow’s first big free-agent ticket. The five-year, $20.5-million deal on July 1, 2008 may have seemed like a big outlay for a 31-year-old defenseman with just three years in the NHL, but Streit came along at the right time.
The Islanders were a fairly ragtag bunch and their 61-point 2008-09 season succeeded in getting them the first overall pick and Tavares. Streit had 16 goals and 56 points in that lousy season, the first and only time a defenseman led the Isles in scoring in their history.
Even with Tavares in the fold, the next few seasons were difficult. In the lockout-shortened 2012-13, the Islanders made the playoffs for the first time since 2007 but it was bittersweet for Streit — he already knew he was headed elsewhere after the season in pursuit of a long-term contract that he knew Snow and the Isles would not provide.
“It was really a transition period for the franchise,” Streit said. “That last year we made the playoffs and it really brought out the best in everyone, especially the fans. They deserved that and it was great to see them come out and support us.”
Streit was waived after playing just two games with the Canadiens this season. He considered going back to play for Bern, his hometown team, and prepare for what would be his fifth Olympics. But at age 39 and the most accomplished player in Swiss hockey history, he made a tough choice.
“There were some sleepless nights because I still have the passion, I still feel like I can play,” he said. “But to retire as an NHL player was important for me, after it took a long time for me to get here. The Islanders will always be special for me because I really feel like I came into my own in the NHL there.”
He has no insight into what his friend Tavares will do. “He’s such a special player, he’s obviously the most important part of that franchise. I feel like I passed the torch to him, the way Dougie and Billy (Guerin) did for me. What he’s accomplished for the Islanders is special.”
Islanders captains through the years:
Ed Westfall 1973-77
Clark Gillies 1977-79
Denis Potvin 1980-87
Brent Sutter 1988-92
Patrick Flatley 1992-96
Bryan McCabe 1998
Trevor Linden 1998-99
Kenny Jonsson 2000-01
Michael Peca 2002-04
Alexei Yashin 2006-07
Bill Guerin 2008-09
Doug Weight 2009-11
Mark Streit 2011-13
John Tavares 2013-