Freshly-minted as a Maple Leaf, John Tavares faced-off with some of his critics — mainly me — late Sunday afternoon in a conference call.
Whether the ex-Islanders captain won the draw — or lost it, as the case may be — depends on where your rooting interest lies. John took the third-degree well, even got choked up a couple of times.
The Maven wasted no time firing away and I wanted to know, straight-out, why it took Tavares so long to pick the Leafs; why he didn’t decide before the trade deadline so that the Isles could have obtained a player or three in return.
“At that time,” he replied, “I had no feelings for playing for another team. I was invested in playing for the Islanders. I wanted to keep my focus on the ice.
“When (then general manager) Garth Snow said he wouldn’t trade me, I respected that and I didn’t ask to be traded.”
I pointed out that his actions — or non actions — hurt his former team but, in response, he preferred focusing on his feelings.
“I go with my gut,” he insisted; emphasizing how challenging his decision-making was during the off-season calling it “emotional” and “heavy.”
Still, the prospect of playing for his hometown Leafs was more tantalizing than returning to the team which had done everything possible to retain him.
“My decision was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” he argued, “because of what the Islanders have meant to me. But this is a unique time in my career.”
The pressure to remain an Islander intensified when Lou Lamoriello joined the club’s general staff. At one point, he mentioned, he didn’t leave his house for two full days while mulling over possibilities.
Tavares: “Lou was tremendous, great. He’s one of the best executives in hockey history and he showed me his vision of the team.
“But I felt I owed it to myself to see what’s out there. I was very thorough. I weighed everything involved and it was gut-wrenching. But my gut led me to this point and I had to follow my instincts.
“Coming to the Maple Leafs was a unique opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
The Maven believed — and still does — that the constant “Where will Tavares go?” questions that lasted all season had a negative effect on the Islanders as well as the player himself, and told him so.
“It’s hard to say if it affected the team but I hope it didn’t,” he asserted.
Principal owner Scott Malkin, his associate owner Jon Ledecky and Lamoriello had put in plenty of hours with Tavares hoping for a different result. With that in mind, I point blank asked Tavares what he told them after opting for the Leafs.
“They are the right people for the Islanders and were tremendous to me and had respect for me in the process. I apologized for it not working out.”
When someone called his attention to the wrathful reaction of many Islanders fans, Tavares simply replied, “I didn’t expect people to be thrilled. But my decision was based on what’s right for me.”
P.S. Just for the heck of it, I asked ex-Islanders goalie Glenn “Chico” Resch about his thoughts regarding the Tavares emigration to Toronto.
“It was no surprise to me,” Chico told The Maven. “I said the same thing last summer when he was going to play out his option.
“Plus John’s stretch drive ‘desire’ told me that his heart did not have an Islanders logo on it!”