This past Thursday night, John Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs travelled to Long Island for Tavares’ skewed version of a homecoming. The real homecoming, of course, was Tavares joining his childhood team this past summer when the most coveted free agent of the summer signed with the Leafs.
His return to Long Island was far from welcoming. Islanders fans made it quite clear that they were not happy with Tavares and feel that he is a traitor for leaving. With the “Dear John” video that some fans made and released prior to the game, things seemed to have gotten away from the friendly “we’re better off without you” to a whole new level of bitterness.
During warm-ups and throughout the game, the Islanders fans chanted things like, “We don’t need you” and “Thanks for leaving”. Fans tossed plastic snakes at Tavares during warm-ups. During his tribute video, while former teammates applauded him, fans booed the entire time. In addition, when Tavares left the ice from warm-ups, a fan chose to throw a jersey at him. There was mockery of the photo of Tavares in his Leafs pajamas that circled social media upon his signing in Toronto — including a dummy dressed in similar pajamas at the game.
Do the fans have a right to express their feelings? Yes. Are their feelings valid? That I don’t agree with. Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello came in this past summer and have turned the Islanders into a team that is destined to make the playoffs. They’re in a neck-in-neck race with the reigning Stanley Cup champions, Washington, for first place in the Metropolitan division — what more could fans want? I understand that Tavares would have been an integral fixture for the Islanders this year — as he was every previous season — but the Islanders made a change to their organization this past summer that Tavares never had. They’re still a few years behind the Toronto ‘rebuild’ and Tavares is already in his 10th season in the league.
There’s nothing the Islanders fans can say about Tavares leaving, he gave everything he had to their organization for nine seasons. He lead the Islanders in points in seven of those seasons — and even when making his decision this past summer — Tavares heard the new bosses out and thoroughly considered every option available.
Leafs fans gave Tavares a warm welcoming when they returned to Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night to host Buffalo, however, Leafs fans, who claim themselves to be one of the best fanbases in hockey, shouldn’t have to wait for another team to trash one of their players to show their appreciation for their own. I’m not saying Leafs fans are bad, but Leafs fans have booed Jake Gardiner more than they’ve cheered for some of their newer players. Leafs fans need to make themselves a fanbase that is always present, always cheering, even on a Monday night home contest. Be the opposite of what went on in New York this past week, respect the process that is in place and be more consistent.