John Tonelli is taking part in the ceremonial opening faceoff tonight before his Islanders face Florida in Brooklyn, and what a wonderful sight it will be.
You have to wonder if there is more news to come about the original - and for many, the only - JT.
Make no mistake: Tonelli deserves to have his No. 27 retired by the Islanders. Some things are worth the wait, and Tonelli and his fans have waited enough. Prior to one of the games at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum next season seems about right.
For anyone who watched him play, the argument is simple, no matter what the statistics may say. In the endless loop of historic moments during the Islanders' dynastic run of four straight Stanley Cups and 19 consecutive playoff series victories, Tonelli is in the middle of almost every big play.
There JT is, making the pass to Bobby Nystrom in 1980 for the Goal Heard 'Round Islanders Country. There that gritty, skilled, relentless, chippy SOB is, as the Islanders come back from two goals down to Pittsburgh in 1982, and keep the dynasty alive with an overtime victory.
All Tonelli did was score the game-tying goal and the winner in OT.
(Of all the moments in my sports-spectating life, the most indelible is with the Islanders trailing late to the Penguins in the playoffs that year, and my-brother-the-Rangers fan turning around and saying to me, "Hey, the run had to end some time." Actually, no, bro…not any time soon).
Tonelli's blessed recklessness is at work when Kenny Morrow scored in OT to get past the Rangers in the '84 playoffs. Bossy's 50th goal in his 50th game? Yeah, Tonelli was right there, the puck hitting his skate before going to Trottier to Bossy.
On a team with several Hall of Famers, it says something about Tonelli that he was the favorite Islander - if not the favorite New York athlete - of many of that generation.
So at a time when Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin continue to do the smart new-owners thing and give the fans as much as they want that's under their control - no, you can't snap your fingers and command wins over losses - it wouldn't be a surprise if they retire Tonelli's number in the very near future.
A little backstory…
Remember the Islanders' Hall of Fame? A noble project, it was conceived in the Charles Wang era. The concept was to induct people into a team Hall of Fame - an opportunity to honor key contributors to the franchise besides the stars who had their numbers retired.
Butch Goring, Jiggs McDonald, Ken Morrow, NYILES (okay, I kid about the last one).
Bob Bourne was the first inductee, and so much good came out of that weekend. But you should know this: Bournie was actually the second Islander to be extended the invitation. Tonelli was the unanimous first choice by the staff at the time.
But Tonelli, bless his big, friggin' heart, took some time to ponder the offer, and was completely candid in his response. It only made me love the guy even more. In the kindest way possible, he informed the club that he would respectfully decline the Hall of Fame honor. His reasoning: If he accepted being in the Islanders Hall of Fame, all hope of having his number retired would be lost.
Not unreasonable. It was a bold decision.
Because more than a decade later, an actual, physical Islanders Hall of Fame (or new arena) has yet to be constructed, and the team hasn't "inducted" anyone in the last few years.
Because more than a decade later, the case for the retirement of No. 27 in honor of Tonelli - the epitome of playing hahd and smaht - is stronger than ever.
I suspect Ledecky and Malkin will do the right thing and have a big and beautiful pregame ceremony at the Old Barn on Hempstead Turnpike next season for Tonelli. Anders Lee, who has worn No. 27 well, can score no matter what number he wears.
Maybe they'll even state their intentions around 7:05 tonight at the Barc. With yesterday's announcement of the Islanders returning to Uniondale to play games, and Tonelli making his very welcome return, it all makes a lot of sense.