BY ERIC NEILSON
Well it comes as no surprise that the Leafs’ July 1 signing of John Tavares was arguably the biggest signing of the year over the summer. It was also one of the biggest signings in Maple Leafs history. Agreeing to the $11 million a season over the course of 7 years meant the start of a true dynasty, something us Leaf fans have been anxiously awaiting for a long time.
But not everybody was thrilled about it. Of course finding a new home elsewhere meant that he would have to leave the old one behind. And this angered Islander fans. Tavares, who went first in the draft in 2009 has been with the Islanders ever since, and remained loyal throughout the struggles and lack of success the team has faced. Talk about trying to stay committed. But sure enough when his contract was up, the Islanders lost their chance to move him in an exchange for future stars and Tavares was free to sign to another team. He chose to live his childhood dream.
Ever since then the superstar forward has faced a massive amount of controversy and surely he had the date of Feb 28 circled on his calendar: The date of his return to New York. His introduction was far from welcoming as fans immediately began to boo him as soon as he touched the ice. Fans were chanting in the street about their newfound hatred for Tavares and were seen carrying signs that said “we don’t need you.” Fans had even gone as far as to customize their own former Tavares jerseys to say things like “traitor” instead of “Tavares.”
This is just the ultimate form of a slap in the face. You guys paid for the jerseys, which I might add are not cheap. They couldn’t even stomach the tribute to Tavares before the game started. I can only imagine that the creators knew what they were to be in store for. I feel like nobody there understands that underneath it all, John Tavares is simply just a man. He makes decisions that are to benefit him and his family. No contract ever signed in any sport is an etched in stone agreement for a life-long sentence.
The fact is Tavares remained loyal to the Islanders until he had enough, and his time had finally been up. He honored his contract and played his heart out every time he laced up his skates. Clearly, this had an impact on the man and the team morale as they had to endure a painful 6-1 loss. It was likely a very long and sleepless night for the 28-year-old.
His new home came in super clutch though. At the very next game at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday, the Toronto fans gave their new assistant captain a proper standing ovation to show their love and respect for the man. The Leaf organization even went as far as to name the occasion John Tavares Day. Talk about a classy city and a classy group of fans.
Well the impact that game had was completely in reverse. The Leafs beat Buffalo 5-2, and Tavares scored 1 goal and tallied 2 assists. This must have been a surreal feeling and clearly helped his morale, knowing that he signed right where he belongs, to a team with fans this loyal to their city. We can only wait and see what is to happen at the next meeting in New York on April 1. In the mean-time though there’s is not much more to be said. Welcome home John, welcome home.