Lou Lamoriello and the New York Islanders must feel like they’re going through a very public breakup that everyone won’t stop gossiping about. Even though they’ve been mature about it, they’ve got to be sick of answering questions like “what happened?,” “are you okay?” and “what are you going to do now?”
Based on Lamoriello’s comments made to The New York Post recently, the organization has turned the page on the former face of the franchise.
“Players come and go… It’s different if they had won championships. It’s different if they had had a lot of success. They haven’t done much — and I don’t say that with any disrespect. Haven’t been to the playoffs the last couple years. Things haven’t worked out the way everybody would have liked them to, from what my understanding is… Teams win, not players. Individual players win some games, but teams win championships. And that’s what we have to create.”
The Islanders general manager brings up many fair points about his team’s former captain, even though it will surely get spun out of context. This isn’t an indictment of Tavares as much as it is about how the team was managed during those years. The Islanders weren’t a playoff team despite having a superstar in Tavares and that likely won’t change this season with him out of the picture. It’s not like Kevin Durant leaving a championship-calibre team to join a better, direct rival championship-calibre team.
What happened is in the past and his squad needs to regroup before the upcoming season. It has to be difficult to not look back with a little anger, though.
There wasn’t much keeping Johnny T in the Big Apple. New York thought they could get him to sign a long-term deal following last season. Clearly they couldn’t, and the idea of losing a leader that has scored at nearly a point-per-game pace in his nine seasons on Long Island for nothing, well, it sucks.
Garth Snow, the Islanders’ general manager last season, rolled the dice by keeping the 27-year-old around until the end of the campaign instead of trying to get something for him at the trade deadline. Hindsight is 20-20, though.
The Leafs had the cap space and the desire to give Tavares what he wanted: a chance to win. $77 million over seven years doesn’t hurt, either. Furthermore, they had the added advantage of being the Mississauga, Ont., native’s favourite team growing up, so you have to figure the opportunity to come home and play for your childhood team is a little enticing.
You can’t blame Tavares for the decisions he made or the Islanders for being a little disappointed in those choices.
It wasn’t an ideal way for Lamoriello to begin his tenure with New York. The 75-year-old joined the organization as the president of hockey operations in late May. Tavares signed with Toronto when he officially became an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
That same day, the Islanders began attempting fill the offensive crater that Tavares left by signing Valtteri Filppula (one year, $2.75 million) and Leo Komarov (four years, $12 million). The next day, Tom Kuhnhackl put pen to paper for one year at $700,000. Clearly, replacing Tavares’ numbers will have to be done by committee.
The biggest beneficiary of this all may be young gun Mathew Barzal. Coming off his Calder Trophy-winning season, where he potted 22 goals and totalled 85 points, the 21-year-old has the opportunity to become the “next Tavares” in New York. That is a lot to put on the shoulders of one person, but he has a talented cast of forwards around him that will support his continued development including Jordan Eberle, Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee.
A thin blueline and questionable goaltending remain problematic for the Boatmen. However, by not re-signing Tavares, New York has plenty of cap space to begin to mend those issues.
Whatever happens, it’s clear that a team mentality will drive the Islanders this season as they attempt to return to the playoffs, a place they haven’t been eight of the last 12 years.
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