As the confusion, sadness and anger sets in with the news that the days of John Tavares as a New York Islander have come to an end, it is constructive to accept the magnitude of the loss.
While he fulfills what he has described as a "childhood dream" to play for the Maple Leafs, Tavares' departure is the latest (and hopefully final) massive blow to the reputation of the Islanders organization -- as big a blow as any New York sports team has endured since free agency first came to baseball five decades ago.
This absolutely a stain on the franchise -- the final piece of the legacy of former general manager Garth Snow, with blame shared by the refusal of current owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky to do anything for two years to upgrade a miserable organization.
It is also, without question, a result of the arena hijinks of the last few years. It's 2018 and there are 146 teams across the five major professional sports leagues in North America. Only one is spending at least the next three years going back and forth playing their games in two arenas -- neither of major league quality. Although we may have become numb to the strangeness around Islanders Country over the last generation-plus, you cannot look past how absurd and counter-productive this is.
Until Belmont is built, move all of the games to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum…now.
Tavares' removal from the Islanders lineup for 2018-19 is also, quite simply, bad. Despite never playing on a very good team, his production after joining the team in 2009 was staggering. In that time, he was fourth in goal scoring -- behind only Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby.
He is also ninth in assists in that span, right there with all of the top playmakers in the game. This is a 27-year-old No. 1 center who made everyone around him better -- from Josh Bailey and Anders Lee on the current squad, to the revolving door of forwards before them. In 161 games as an Islanders, P.A. Parenteau had 38 goals and 82 assists for 120 points. In 304 games as an Islander, Matt Moulson was 118-105-223. Both never came close to excelling again, and that was all before Tavares entered his prime.
As exceptional a player as Mathew Barzal is, the Calder Trophy winner will have a difficult time matching last season's output in the absence of Tavares. Even if the Islanders acquire Ryan O'Reilly.
Tavares cannot be replaced, won't be replaced anytime soon. Players like him are usually acquired by tanking an entire season, which the Islanders did so adeptly. Even if there was a free agent available that might approach fitting the bill, it's likely he wouldn't want anything to do with being viewed as Tavares' successor.
The one thing Tavares will always have to live with -- and fans will never make him forget -- is that he told the Islanders not to trade him at the deadline in February. It's one thing to mouth pleasantries about how he "hoped" to stay an Islander, but to make that request and then sign with your hometown team and call it the fulfillment of a childhood dream is certainly enough to leave a bad taste in Islanders Country. Only Tavares could explain that one, but he won't.
But Tavares is in the past now. The Islanders will move on. As the free agents come off the board rapidly and the fans mourn or rage at the loss of Tavares, Lamoriello has enormous cap space, a decent amount of assets, and plenty of holes to fill.
Despite the head-turning presence of Snow at the draft, the Islanders have promised a culture change. We'll see over the next few weeks how things are different around here.