Matt Martin isn’t saying he wouldn’t love to be reunited with John Tavares on the Maple Leafs — quite the opposite, actually — but the former Islanders fourth-liner said Monday that he hardly would be surprised if Tavares stays where he is.
“I think Johnny is a pretty loyal guy,” Martin said at the Midtown NHL store, where he was on hand as part of the Matt Martin Foundation, presenting a service dog to a veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. “It’s a tough decision. Obviously, this next contract is probably going to be where he essentially plays for the rest of his career and it’s something he’s got to think over and consider. I don’t think that [just because] he didn’t sign [a contract extension] on July 1 is any indication that he’s not signing with the Islanders.”
Tavares’ future could cast a fairly large shadow on this upcoming season, but there’s every indication that the Islanders will do whatever they can to retain the face of the franchise when his contract expires in 2018. Still, there’s no doubt that with a big payday (and the rest of his athletic prime) on the line, Tavares and his agent will do their due diligence.
And the Maple Leafs? Well, they’re heavily rumored to be a possible landing spot.
“I think it’s a process,” said Martin, who departed for the Leafs last season. “He’s got to think it over and do what’s best for him and his family. As a friend of mine, would it be great to have him? Absolutely. But I want him to do whatever will make him happy and wherever he feels he can win and be successful. [That’s] what you hope for at the end of the day and that’s all that matters to me.”
After all, it’s what Martin did. And though he departed as a free agent — netting a four-year, $10-million contract — he still has strong ties to the area where he began his career. His foundation has done extensive charity work in the community, particularly helping law enforcement and veterans. On Monday, this came in the form of a partnership with American Humane, which presented a service dog — which costs anywhere between $20,000 to $30,000 to train — to army veteran Chris Ellis, a retired staff sergeant.
Ellis, who suffers from PTSD, said he couldn’t be in crowds or take his daughter to sporting events before the dog, a 1 1⁄2-year-old named Lex, came into their lives.
Lex, who was raised and “taught manners” by a group of inmates in a Louisiana prison, came to the Ellises just in time. His daughter, Breelyn, just turned 9, he said, and was excited to see the sights and sounds of New York City (the family is from North Carolina).
Ellis said he has heard of other programs that exploit veterans looking for service dogs, taking their money and offering nothing in return. “This is the first program we’ve been a part of where the vets pay nothing,” he said.
“This has been so awesome,” he added. “Mr. Martin over there, he’s awesome, awesome. Usually, you hear of a celebrity or any major player and they might say hi to me or they might sign my shirt and go about their business. Mr. Martin, he puts everything he has into many things. I don’t know how he has time for himself. I feel very appreciated.”
Martin said he hopes to continue his foundation’s partnership with American Humane, which began more than a year ago when they contacted him to shoot a public service announcement. He also plans to continue reaching out to the New York community even though he no longer calls the area home.
“This community was great to me when I played here,” he said. “They always supported me on the ice, so to give back to the community and also give back to the veterans and the police force is very important to me. I live a pretty comfortable life . . . I can’t do what I do for a living without them. We have a lot to be grateful for.”