April 24, 2016. The New York Islanders advances to the second round of the NHL Playoffs for the first time in 23 years. Captain John Tavares scores a wraparound goal in
Fast forward to February 28, 2019. John Tavares steps onto the ice at the Coliseum in a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey. He has old jerseys with his Islanders number hurled at him as he finished his warm up. During warm-ups, plastic and rubber snakes were thrown onto the ice. Chants of “A**hole”, “We don’t need you”, “it’s your bedtime”, and “where’s your jammies” rain down upon Tavares amid torrents of boos. The taunts and chirps continue throughout his two minute long video tribute. He steps onto the ice, raises his stick to the hostile and pugnacious crowd, and skates back to the visitors bench.
On the surface, it looks like a salty fanbase being mad that their best player decided to leave in free agency for a better team. It looks like a guy being upset at his ex-girlfriend dating a better looking and more successful guy. The Islanders are obviously doing well without him, so why should the fans be bitter?
July 1, 2017, mere months after his famed wraparound, John Tavares became eligible to sign a contract extension with the New York Islanders. He began working on signing a contract and he made a point to let Islanders fans know his intent is to stay on the Island. Although, he made it clear to management his desire to not discuss an extension during the season. He wanted the contract situation to work out. Tavares always stated how he loved the area, the fanbase, the team, and that he wants to stay. He reiterated how it would be a dream to retire with the team that drafted him.
If the plan was to court Tavares into staying with a contending team, they failed. The Islanders 2017-18 season did not go the way they had planned. They languished in the middle of the pack for most of the season until an eight game losing streak destroyed their hopes of postseason bliss. They closed out the season going 6-12-4 in their final 22 games.
Tavares wanted to make a show of confidence that a deal could be done. He stayed in the hopes that the team, only trailing by a few points in the standings, could make the playoffs. They didn’t and Tavares held the cards for the upcoming negotiations. The Islanders missed out. A cornucopia of assets could have been received in exchange for a player like Tavares.
It came out that Tavares didn’t want to be traded for more reasons than just a show of faith. In an interview after signing a seven-year $77 million contract with his hometown team the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tavares stated how he did not want to go to a team that “had to subtract what they had” in order to trade for him. In others words he felt pity.
The Islanders fans did not forget how Tavares emphatically asked to not be traded. How Tavares repeatedly expressed his intention of staying. The inherent pity in that statement and the “letter to the fans” he sent after signing with the Leafs. The fans remained hurt by those actions. Those fans let out their vitriol in one of the most public and grandiose cathartic experience on February 28, 2019.
A common thread amongst Islanders fans is Tavares’s mantle as “Pajama Boy”. This came after he tweeted a photo of himself as a kid tucked into Toronto Maple Leafs sheets. A misnomer; however, “Pajama Boy” does roll off the tongue a bit easier than “Bedsheets Boy”.
A video was posted to YouTube as an alternative to the Tavares tribute video shown at the game. It compiles footage of Tavares stating his intention of staying, his love of the Islanders, and laughing off the suggestion of his signing in Toronto.
Very few people can say that they stood in front of tens of thousands of people screaming their hatred at you. John Tavares can claim that achievement. The barrage did not stop for a second. If there is one lesson to learn about the internet, it is not a kind or friendly place to be when you are enemy number one.
Sit Back, and Enjoy.
Tavares takes a faceoff against Mat Barzal, who Tavares referred to as, “the kid who won the Calder Trophy this year,” in an interview about signing with the Leafs. Forgetting your old teammate’s name isn’t a good look. It is, however, a great way to show your loyalty to a new team (besides signing a seven-year contract) while throwing shade at your former team. This kind of comment seems akin to a player playing against his old team and getting right into his former goalie’s face.
Tavares took a lot of abuse from Islanders fans. A fan commemorated the event by creating a SnapChat filter for use while in the Coliseum during the game.
The Ultimate Revenge
Perhaps the greatest feeling of closure the Islanders faithful will ever receive came in the form of a thorough stomping of Tavares and his new team in a 6-1 slaughter.
Feature Image Credit: (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)