John Tavares hears your pity but wants nothing to do with it.
The former Islanders captain addressed the Long Island faithful for the first time since snubbing them in free agency for the Maple Leafs, laying out the reasons behind his momentous decision in a Players’ Tribune piece Wednesday. Tavares, who left millions on the table from the Islanders by signing a seven-year, $77 million deal with Toronto on July 1, described the jarring moment he knew which way he wanted to take his NHL career.
And it’s the only feeling that held him back that likely will weigh on the hearts of Islanders fans each time their 2009 first-overall draft pick puts on the blue and white.
“[It’s] the second force pulling on me that I can’t seem to shake,” Tavares wrote after calling it a “childhood dream” to join the Maple Leafs, his hometown team, “and it’s the reason why I wanted to write this letter: my real, honest, still-there love for the New York Islanders hockey franchise.
“And my not wanting to leave.”
Tavares dedicated most of the space to his memories from the seven seasons he spent with the Islanders, crediting the organization for helping him grow from a fresh-faced teenager to a confident leader who earned five All-Star Game nods and climbed to fifth on the Islanders’ all-time scoring list (621 points). He thanked each of the three coaches he had in his tenure and former general manager Garth Snow, who drafted Tavares out of the Ontario Hockey League. He admitted he didn’t have enough space to thank all of his teammates, but said he believes the franchise is on the path to greatness with its next generation of talent, led by 2018 Calder Memorial Trophy winner Mathew Barzal.
But above all, Tavares expressed his gratitude to the fans — and that’ll either give them closure or make his departure all the more unsettling.
“I really just wanted to take a second here and say thank you for letting me be a part of it,” Tavares concluded his fan section. “Because I’ve been lucky enough to have had a lot of really cool experiences so far in my hockey career. But few of them will ever come close to how lucky I am to have gotten to spend all of these years playing for all of those generations of all of you Isles fans.”
On top of explaining why he fled for Toronto after hearing out each team’s free-agency pitch — he grew up rooting for the Maple Leafs in Mississauga, Ontario, and recognizes he’s only moving away from his prime at age 27 — Tavares apologized to the Islanders. After making just three postseason appearances during his time in Long Island, Tavares took partial responsibility for the disappointment, yet said he understood if fans forever hold a grudge that he didn’t stay to finish the job.
“I know how this works, though … and I know that my explanations probably still won’t be good enough for some people,” Tavares wrote. “… And I guess what I just wanted to say is: that’s fine. …
“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. 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.”
If Tavares ends up hoisting the Stanley Cup in Toronto in the coming years, have no doubt Islanders fans will hold onto his parting words.