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John Tavares apologizes to Islanders fans in Players’ Tribune article

John Tavares holds up a Maple Leafs jersey

John Tavares holds up a Maple Leafs jersey following a news conference in Toronto on July 1, 2018. Credit: The Canadian Press via AP / Chris Young

John Tavares wants Islanders fans to know he’s sorry.

“I want to apologize, from the bottom of my heart, for things not working out — and for the fact that, under my captaincy, we fell short of our ultimate goal,” Tavares wrote in a 4,000-plus word first-person article posted on The Players’ Tribune on Wednesday afternoon. “But I gave it all that I had . . . and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for how you gave me all that you had in return.”

Tavares describes an agonizing process of trying to decide whether to re-sign with the Islanders, who selected him first overall in 2009, or leave as an unrestricted free agent to join his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs.

Tavares, born in Mississauga, Ontario, ultimately agreed to a seven-year, $77-million deal with the Maple Leafs on July 1, shortly after the free agent market opened. During the five-day negotiating period leading up to the start of free agency, Tavares met with representatives of the Islanders and Maple Leafs, as well as the Sharks, Stars, Bruins and Lightning before retreating to his Mississauga home to make a decision.

Tavares wrote that process made him feel like he was having a “breakdown.”

“I’m not trying to sound dramatic — that’s just actually what happened,” Tavares wrote. “I just sort of . . . lost it, you know? I collapsed onto the couch that we have out near the pool. And I just started lying there, becoming more and more overwhelmed. Not even thinking, really, but more like . . . whatever comes after thinking. I was panicked. I felt frozen.

“Deep down, I think I’d come to realize where I was going to play hockey next season,” Tavares continued. “But there’s deciding . . . and then there’s making a decision. And it was that very last part that — man. For some reason, I just literally, physically could not do it.”

All through last season, Tavares maintained that he hoped things would work out with the Islanders, even though he did not sign an extension when he became eligible to do so on July 1, 2017.

“I know how serious this decision was, and how many people it affected,” Tavares wrote. “Which is why I want to say this as deliberately and as clearly as possible: In no way had I made up my mind yet, as far as where I was signing, before I took those free-agency meetings. In no way.”

Tavares goes on to detail his reasons for choosing the Maple Leafs, writing it went beyond just having a childhood dream to play for the team he’s rooted for since he was three. Tavares wrote, at age 27 and after nine seasons in the NHL, he understands how short a career can be and this would likely be the only time he would be a free agent.

Still, while Tavares said it’s true he was raised as a child in the Toronto area, he feels like he grew up on Long Island, as an Islander.

Tavares, who wrote he knows, “my explanations probably still won’t be good enough for some people,” added the main reason he decided to write the article was to thank the Islanders’ fans, who he said the team has dubbed, “The Faithful.”

“So that all of you Islanders’ Faithful really do know how much I cherished our time together,” Tavares wrote.

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