Blog: What Happened To The Loyalty?

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Occam’s Razor: When presented with two or more competing hypotheses the simplest of the set tends to be the right one.

Photo courtesy of thestar.com
Keep that in mind when you read this article, if you would. A lot of dirty went on with the Islanders and has gone on for some time. Everyone (by everyone I mean everyone but the city of Toronto) was blind-sided by the decision made by now former captain of the New York Islanders, John Tavares a few days ago. I was like many who thought and verbally endorsed the idea that Tavares would return. Like everyone else, I was wrong. When I had first heard of the move that Tavares was headed up north, I received the news of my aunt passing away just 10 minutes before, so let’s just call it an overall bad day. I walked away from the computer, didn’t want to talk to anyone, especially Islanders fans who had every right to be angry. I was just not in a good place to allow the venting to start. So I went to work, collected my thoughts, did my job and when I got home, I was expecting to see John Tavares sign that ridiculous 1 year deal worth 15 million dollars. Instead I saw a 7-year, 77 million dollar offer that was accepted by Tavares. So When I saw that contract, my jaw dropped and the moment took me away from my aunt for a few hours. What happened? How could this have happened? This should’ve been a done deal and money was not an issue here. After looking back on the last year, researching a few articles from other media/bloggers and reviewing the timeline and then coming to grips with it, I have my own hypothesis about why John did not come back and I’ll be using Occam’s Razor to hopefully connect the dots for you.

Charles Wang, Garth Snow, Doug Weight, John Tavares. If there was one thing in common among the four of them it was one word, loyalty. There was always this power struggle for Tavares’ loyalty between the fans and now former Isles general manager, Garth Snow. Tavares wanted to win and win now, like the fans still do. It was an invisible, yet strong bond between the fans and their champion who was not only representing them but their team that folks had not seen since Pat Lafontaine. They were behind him every step of the way, waiting patiently that one day Snow and Wang could eventually earn their loyalty as well. It never happened. Wang should at the very least be given credit for keeping the Islanders on Long Island. If that’s how far you want to go, that’s fair. Snow on the other hand, well, let’s give him his small credit now. Love him or hate him, Garth Snow was good at managing the cap. Anyone who could do some long math or knows how to work a calculator could tell you that once the contracts of Tavares, Mikhail Grabovski, and Nicolai Kulemin were over, the Islanders had 15 million to resign the captain. This really should have been a no-brainer, even for Snow.

Is it really just about getting to Belmont? Photo courtesy of wsj.com
But last year, it’s been said that Tavares rejected a contract offer. Why? Was he asking for too much money? Not from that contract he just signed: 7 years at 77 million, an average of 11 million dollars. Just like in 2009 when every Islanders fan knew that Snow was going to draft Tavares, everyone on Long Island and the NHL for that fact knew that 11-12 million was the going rate to bring him back into the fold. Was he worth that much? To most, yes. But many people felt Tavares did take a pay cut in his first free agent contract from Charles Wang and Garth Snow and the extra million or two would’ve been a way of saying thank you for your loyalty, here you go. There’s just one problem, Charles Wang is no longer the majority owner of the Isles, Scott Malkin and John Ledecky are. If you remember the contracts of Alexi Yashin and Rick DiPietro, Charles would’ve given Tavares a blank check. That’s loyalty. So what made John Tavares go from one of the nicest guys to Islanders public enemy number 1 on July 1st?

Occam’s Razor: The New York Islanders did not offer the 8-year, 88 million dollar contract to resign John Tavares last year. It was lower.

A lot of drama would’ve ended right then and there had the new owners been loyal to Tavares, but they weren’t. Tavares would’ve been the nice guy you’ve been used to seeing because he would have known, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was going to be a part of something bigger when Belmont was finally completed. It wasn’t all about getting a number one defenceman and goalie, it was about Tavares being punched in the gut and feeling betrayed. So why didn’t Tavares ask a trade right then and there? Let’s move to the next part of the timeline.

Another crappy season fell upon the Islanders and they missed the playoffs for the second year in a row, this time by a wide margin. Some fans, who are still tired of losing every year and being a laughing-stock, decided to take matters into their own hands and raised money to put up a billboard stating “Snow Must Go.” It gained media attention and at the very least, right or wrong, it gave some Islanders fans another outlet to express their frustration out on Garth Snow. The trade deadline was also upon the Islanders and despite still not having a contract, Tavares had requested not to be traded. Hope was filled up in the fans hearts as their champion was going to remain loyal to them and they to him. But that wasn’t the reason. At the time, it appeared that Garth Snow had an “iron-clad” contract that would keep him President and general manager for the foreseeable future, and Taveras knew that. So Tavares said all the right things because be believed Snow was still loyal to him as Tavares was to Snow. So do I believe John when he said that he wanted to be here and remain here? Yes, but…..

Occam’s Razor: Tavares was staying as long as Snow was still in charge.

Now despite the ugly season, some believed that Doug Weight deserved at the very most one more year to show he can succeed as Islanders head coach. At the media conference, Weight did own up to being responsible for the losing season and he should’ve been commended a little bit more. Weight put Tavares under his wing when he first showed up, even living in his house for the first year. Tavares liked and preferred Weight’s open ice, more offensive style than the checking, defensive style of former coach, Jack Capuano.

Occam’s Razor: Tavares was staying as long as Doug Weight remained the head coach.

Then came Lou. Scott Malkin had heard the cry’s from the fans, read the ripping of embarrassments from media/bloggers and how Snow must go and a change of culture was needed, if not mandated. Get rid of Snow/Weight and let’s start winning now, just like our captain wants! So Malkin did just that. Completely ignoring that John Ledecky had even existed at that point, Malkin made the effort to lure Lou Lamoriello away from the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he immediately took over the President of Hockey Operations. The writing was soon on the wall. It wasn’t long after that both Snow and Weight were relieved of their duties and a celebration began with the Islanders fanbase. The culture change that they sought for had finally come after the hiring of last years Stanley Cup coach, Barry Trotz. Fans finally realized that the time to win was now and their loyal champion was going to resign because these moves improved the team along with other rising stars. Lou would bring in the necessary players because he was Lou Lamoriello. But that ended up not being the case. Why? What’s wrong with Lou and Trotz? Who wouldn’t want to play for those two caliber people? John Tavares didn’t. Enter the Leafs.

The Leafs were already winning now, and they offered Tavares the money on the first try to show their loyalty. Mike Babcock is an upgraded version to Doug Weight whereas Barry Trotz is an upgrade from Jack Capuano. No wonder why things just “Felt right” for Taveras. When you saw that the Leafs offered 11 million and then the Isles offered only 300 thousand more, I can tell you now that the Isles were already no longer interested in bringing back Tavares and that was done just to save face. Too late or the Islanders were already moving on, take your pick. The Islanders didn’t even come close to matching San Jose’s 13.2 million dollars a year. The money said it all. So now instead of being a part of something bigger on the Island and ending his career in Islanders lore with likes of Bossy, Trottier, Goring, Nystrom, and Potvin, he’s going to try to accomplish something even bigger in trying to win Toronto’s first cup since 1967. And you can bet that if Islanders fans think the taunting from Leafs fans is bad now, wait for them to put up their own billboard of Tavares hoisting the Cup over his head and they’ll make sure everyone, including the Islanders, see it.

Occam’s Razor: Tavares was not coming back. No matter how drawn out he made it, the damage was done, the loyalty was gone and he was going to the Leafs.

So let’s ask the question then: Where was the loyalty from Tavares to the fans? What did he owe them?

Occam’s Razor: Nothing. In his mind, Tavares fulfilled his contract to the Islanders and it’s fan. It was time for a change.

There was nothing left for him to do except move on. During his conference call, (35 minute mark from the Isles Seat “He’s Gone” Podcast) He basically said (and I’m paraphrasing) he tried to make the best decision for HIMSELF. He wasn’t thinking about the fans, nor were they ever a factor in his decision as to where he wanted to play. He wasn’t staying for the fans that have gone through the growing pains with him these last nine years. That folks is what has Islanders fans upset the most. They feel cheated, broken, used, manipulated and what Tavares did the last five days as an Islander will be remembered more than his game six heroics in double overtime which ended a 23 year playoff series drought…..for now.

I’m not defending John Tavares, I don’t know why the owners did not show him the loyalty he deserved. And we can argue this all day, but the bottom line was this: The impossible happened, so there has to be simpler explanations that people will not want to believe right now. I’m merely pointing out that there is a real possibility that Islanders fans did not get the entire truth these last 12 months. The loyalty within the franchise was in serious question. The loyalty cost Snow his job by not trading Tavares at the trade deadline (among other things, I know), it cost Weight his job and the final blow was Tavares. Yes, there may be stability now, and yes the fans now have a culture change, but loyalty was very much misplaced. Why wasn’t loyalty shown to Tavares last year? Even if Malkin/Ledecky signed Tavares to that extension a year ago and the same events happened, would John have requested a trade? Maybe. If he did, at least the Islanders would’ve gotten something in return for him. If Tavares had stayed and the losing continued, you wouldn’t have blamed Tavares for wanting to leave and you’d wish him all the best. Would he had remained loyal to both Snow and Weight? Yes, and I can say that because the impossible happened. John’s not here.

The billboard didn’t completely work, but it’s close enough
So moving on, what can the Islanders fans take from the last year? Where should Islanders fans put their loyalty? In the crest. In the logo and what it has always represented: family, loyalty, friendship, hard word, dedication, winning, pride, battle level (I had to) and whatever you feel deserves to be included. Don’t pledge your loyalty to Lou, or Barzal, or Pulock or any player, coach or manager because to rephrase the classic football quote: It’s not about the name on the back of the jersey, it’s about the crest in front of it. This is not 2009 all over again. Scott Malkin gave the fans what they wanted: a culture change, even if the whole process itself was dirty and not yet complete (look to your left). Lou is just getting started and the Isles will be back sooner than later so make no mistake, you’ll get your chance to forget what John Tavares did because nothing will be better than the Islanders beating the Leafs in the playoffs. Look forward to that because that will just “feel right.”

PK