September 14, 2011
When it comes to commitment, the New York Islanders have a multiple personality disorder.
On the hand, you have a community that wouldn't approve funding for a new arena complex, leading to outsiders sending the team apartment guides to Quebec and Kansas City until the Islanders' lease is up in 2015. You have free agents like Christian Ehrhoff(notes) that refuse the team's money and tune out its sales pitch, signing elsewhere. You have a franchise that's ridiculed when it's not being mocked.
On the other hand, you have John Tavares(notes) agreeing to a six-year contract extension — to be formally announced Thursday — keeping him with the franchise until 2018. And Michael Grabner(notes) signing a 5-year deal through 2016. And Kyle Okposo(notes) signing through 2016.
What the outside world doesn't seem to understand, and what Tavares will no doubt explain at his press conference on Thursday, is that playing for GM Garth Snow's Islanders is something the players in the organization quite enjoy; and that the team he's constructing is one that they believe can be a contender in the near term.
No, they can't seem to convince their friends from other teams to join the cult. But with Tavares as the latest example of long-term commitment to the team, the GM and their plan, that could change.
Here's Tavares speaking with Y! Sports' own Nick Cotsonika about the Islanders last week:
"I think it's time for us to kind of move past that stage of inexperience. Yeah, we're young, but we were able to play at a really young age, a lot of us, and it's time to really take our game to the next level, find that consistency. I don't think we have that yet, and this would be a great year for us to really make our mark that way and find our way into the playoffs.
"Of course, that's always the goal, but for us, it's one day at a time, understanding that you can't get too high, get too low, and I think as young guys, excited to play in the league, it can happen that way sometimes. It's a long season. It's a grind. So it's an important year for us. If we can stay healthy as well, that could make a big difference. But time for us to make a big step. This is a big year for our hockey team and our group of guys that we have. I think we we're ready for it and we're ready for the challenge and we're going to push each other."
What makes him believe they're ready? The way the team reacted to being terrible.
From Oct. 23 to Dec. 13 of last season, the Islanders won once. Once. That's it. Lost 17 games, lost three more in overtime, and won once.
Tavares said that was an education for this group:
"I think you saw the way we came together as a hockey team. That losing streak was real tough, and to get through something like that as a team and individually, you need the support of your teammates to find a way to move forward and we really came close because of that, especially being really young and having to go through something like that.
"It was something new to all of us, for sure, and you can really see us come together in the locker room, the family atmosphere we had and the way we played on the ice. No one took advantage of anybody, we stuck up for everybody and we played hard and we tried to show teams that it wasn't going to be easy to play against and earn our respect that way. For sure, just like I said, now it's that consistency, understanding that that's what it takes for a full 82 games, a full season, to make the playoffs and give ourselves a chance at the Stanley Cup."
Sorry, the what now?
But overall, what Tavares's contract, which will carry a $5.5 million cap hit, tells the world is that like Stamkos in Tampa and Doughty (eventually) in Los Angeles, just because one doesn't play for an Original Six team or north of the border doesn't mean one wants to leave at the first chance to do so.
From Tavares, on his love of Long Island:
"[There's] a lot of perception out there of me wanting to leave or not happy with the situation. Plus, people have a bad perception of Long Island in general. It's a beautiful place to live. It's a fantastic … It's New York. We're a half an hour from New York City. So much to do. Obviously the food's the best part about New York, because everyone doesn't like to cook so much. They like to go out to eat.
"And then we get treated great in our organization. Charles and Garth have done a great job in creating a great atmosphere for us. We're treated really well. Guys come here, they enjoy playing here. We've got a great group of guys, a great staff. It's a lot of fun. I go every day with a big smile on my face. No matter how the day goes or not, always appreciate being drafted by the Islanders, giving me the opportunity to be in the National Hockey League and represent them and be a big part of the team."
The Islanders should announce Tavares's contract and captaincy in the same news conference on Thursday, formally making him the face of the franchise, if he wasn't already. He's yet to crack 70 points or 30 goals. His contract will pay him $4 million in 2012-13, which is what he's earned. It'll pay him $6 million by 2015, which is the value the Islanders hope he's earned by then.
It's all about believing in potential and the willingness to commit.
For Islanders management, and for John Tavares.