There were several No. 91 jerseys on display Tuesday night as the Islanders took on the Flames. There were ones that said "Traitor" where Tavares should be, and at least one that said "Snake." A handful were left unaltered, though any Islanders sweater emblazoned with a ‘C’ these days is more likely to belong to Anders Lee.
So yeah, you could say that fans are still pretty angry. But please, Lou Lamoriello said during a segment on WFAN’s “Joe & Evan,” reconsider booing John Tavares on Thursday in his return to NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
“He had every right to make the decision that he did to go and to go to free agency, and I respect that,” the Islanders’ president and general manager said. “Let’s put it this way: I hope it’s rethought. I hope it’s the respect he should be getting. I do understand the passion that the fans have… We’re talking about a quality human being who served his years here extremely well, and I hope that’s taken into consideration.”
It might not be that easy, though. At least not according to fans at Tuesday’s game. Much of the fan base felt bamboozled after it seemed as if Tavares, much like many other NHL superstars, would re-sign with his team at the conclusion of his contract. Instead, he chose the Maple Leafs, and now must return to the barn as a hero turned villain.
The animosity is further fueled because the Islanders decided not to trade Tavares before his contract expired, meaning they lost him for nothing. Then there’s the fact that Tavares signed for seven years and $77 million, which reports say was one year less than the Islanders offered. After the signing, he posted a photo of himself as a child on social media, sleeping under a Maple Leafs bedspread with the caption, “Not every day can you live a childhood dream.”
It didn’t go over well.
“I don’t like that he left, the way he did it,” said Elvis Cage, a season-ticket holder from Farmingville who’ll be there Thursday. “If he gets booed, he gets booed. He kind of deserves it.
“I’ll boo him when he touches the puck and I’ll cheer ‘Let’s Go Islanders’ if they play a [tribute] video for him – drown out whoever wants to cheer for him.”
Fans, Cage said, have plenty to be happy about, so he does hope they can concentrate more on cheering on the first-place team in front of them than the former captain who opted to leave.
Mitch Tessar and Brendan Power, friends from West Islip, had opposing views on how Tavares should be treated. Tessar, a Rangers fan clad in a Tavares jersey he borrowed from Power, said he hoped people would remember everything Tavares did for them over the years. “He made hockey big for Long Island,” said Tessar, 25. “I think they should [show him some love], but I just love hockey.”
Power said the only reason that same Tavares jersey hadn’t been defaced was because he “didn’t have any duct tape.”
“We wanted to write ‘trash’ on the back…Traitor is easy because [you add to] the T, and trash is easy. I want to think of something more creative.”
He doesn’t have a ticket for Thursday but is looking to find one, so he can heckle Tavares.
Lamoriello, though, still hopes the majority will show just a little fondness for the player who led this team for nearly a decade.
“He’s a tremendous human being and gave tremendous years to the Islanders in a commitment as their captain,” he said. “I hope he gets the right reception and gets complimented by the crowd for what he did.”
The other option, of course, is long and loud booing for what he did afterward.