NHL Column: Tavares ridiculed in return


New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal (13) fends off Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares (91) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Islanders defeated the Maple Leafs 6-1. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

John Tavares called Long Island home for nine years, but last week it was confirmed he will never be welcome there again. Over the summer, the superstar ditched the New York Islanders to play for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs.

Islanders fans felt betrayed by the one player who brought them hope over so many dismal, meaningless seasons. The former first overall pick of the organization said repeatedly in interviews that he wanted to remain on Long Island, and insisted he did not want to be traded at the deadline. At the time The Islanders were way out of the playoff race, meaning that if they were not going to re-sign the elite center, they would have been better off trading him.

Tavares continued to stir the belief that he would return to the team under an acceptable contract, but his actions told a different story when July 1st arrived. Despite offering just as much money as Toronto, New York lost Tavares. The free agent abandoned the team in fear that the organization would never right the ship. He also wanted to return to Canada in order to play closer to family.

Upon signing the contract, Tavares posted a picture of himself from childhood wearing Maple Leafs pajamas. Cute, maybe, but this left a bitter taste for all Islanders fans who felt they were lied to by their once franchise ambassador.

To be fair, most players tend to imply that they would love to re-sign with their current team in free agency even if they have other plans. What else are they supposed to stay? But the Islanders lost their star not only on an emotional level, but also without receiving anything in return. The Ontario native’s comments were more misleading than most pending free agents.

Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares (91) waits during a chorus of boos and other chants during the first period of the team’s NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders, his former team, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Uniondale, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

As expected, when Tavares returned to the Coliseum ice for the first time Thursday night, the boos rained down on him raucously. The thundering jeers persisted throughout the night each time he climbed over the boards. This, of course, was combined with calling Tavares other nasty names in intimidating unison. During his tribute video the boos rang loudest, bringing into question why the Islanders organization would bother making one in the first place. Chants of “We don’t need you” also rang out throughout the evening.

Fans showed Tavares that they consider him a snake, throwing plastic snakes onto the ice during warmups. They also tossed Islanders Tavares jerseys at him as he exited to the locker room. Throughout the crowd, fans wore other Tavares jerseys with “Traitor” patched over the Tavares lettering.

New York trounced Toronto during the game, beating them 6-1, while holding Tavares off the score sheet. Once the team had run up the score, fans began chanting “Where’s your Jammies” and “It’s Your Bedtime” as a group, putting a close on the night. This served as a notice that his tweet from the summer did not go unrecognized.

Since the game, many have been insinuating that Islanders fans’ treatment of Tavares was abnormal. But any time a player abandons a team, they are bound to be hated by that fanbase going forward. How could anyone expect anything different? To not anticipate an extreme level of negative reactions to the player would be foolish.

Toronto also thought that Tavares’ reception was unreasonable, greeting him with a long- lasting standing ovation in the team’s next home game.

Wouldn’t a hockey city like Toronto be beyond something like this? Acting like Tavares overcame some legitimate brutality presents an ignorance to the passion that fans have for their teams. Tavares, one of the highest paid superstars in the league, can live through one night of being booed. Being hated by your former team’s fans is a part of sports.

People can call Islanders fans classless as much as they wish, but any other fanbase would have done the same thing under the same circumstances. As much as fans love to cheer for their team, they love to express their disliking of opponents, especially traitors, as well.

Both Tavares and the Islanders have been successful without each other. The Islanders sit in first place in the Metropolitan Division this season under new management. Meanwhile, Tavares is having an amazing first season with the Leafs, leading the team with 37 goals.

Regardless, any time the former Islander returns to New York, he will be greeted with hostility. How could you expect anything else?

Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at dylan.barrett@uconn.edu.

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