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Watling: Two years since ‘The Return,’ it is time for Islanders’ fans to forgive their former captain

It has been 974 days since that dreaded summer day when John Tavares spurned the New York Islanders and signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Sunday marked the two-year anniversary since he returned to the Coliseum, where the former embattled Isles captain was met with boos that were louder and filled with more hate than anything shouted at Rangers players, referees or even Tom Wilson, who every Islander fan cannot stand.

While fans still feel the pain, it is time to put away the nicknames and hatred for the former Islander.

Looking back to July 1, 2018, I remember vividly where I was when I heard the news. It could not be more Long Island of me. I was at All-American in Massapequa on the way home from the beach. The minute I left earshot of my friends who drove me home, I broke down into tears.

The guy who was going to bring a championship back to Long Island. The guy who never said or did anything wrong. The guy who we adored from the moment his name was announced at the draft back in 2009.

He was gone.

He just did the worst possible thing: leaving our favorite team.

Now, over two years since his return, I am ready to put it all behind me and so should the fans. I understand the hate for his return to the Coliseum, I was part of that. I also recognize the hate for the entire 2018-19 season. The wound was fresh, the stitches were healing.

But it is over now.

Imagine having this much hate for an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, now almost 1,000 days later. It might feel good to embrace the hatred, but it is an awful look for a fanbase that I know is passionate and proud.

I am not saying we forget what Tavares did or even love him as a player for the Leafs, but we cannot sit here with steam coming out of our ears every time his name is spoken. At this point, it feels petty, obnoxious and unnecessary to rip on Tavares.

Look around the NHL, marque players are moving left and right. Sergei Bobrovsky spurned the Blue Jackets; Ryan Miller left his forever home in Buffalo; both Torey Krug and Alex Pietrangelo nixed two really good teams to play elsewhere. Do these fans continue to shun their free agents?

While the Tavares situation might be a touch different, the point still stands — players move all the time by choice or trade. 

We should not praise Tavares for exercising his right as a player but maybe understand where he was coming from. He had the chance to play for what was thought of as a much better team than the Islanders. There was the luring aspect of playing in front of family and friends in a city he grew up in.

As someone who wants to work as a play by play commentator, I would trade any role with any team in the league to work for the Islanders, so I realize where Tavares is coming from.

Outside of the present and getting over the loss, we should look at the legacy of Tavares in an Islanders’ jersey. He is undoubtedly one of the best players to ever don the blue and orange and possibly the best since the dynasty era. He was dynamic, a great stick handler and brought hope back to the Island, not something we can say for too many former Islanders. He brought us the first playoff series win in many of our lifetimes as well as some of the most iconic goals in regular season and playoff history. I get chills just thinking about it. 

Tavares in some way helped the Islanders get to where they are today.

During the 2018 offseason, the Islanders brought in an actual general manager in Lou Lamoriello and a better coach in Barry Trotz in hopes of luring Tavares back. While it did not work, there has been nothing but positives since Tavares left. The Islanders have won several playoff rounds, more than the Maple Leafs I might add. They have a tremendous group of centers and are one piece away from being a real Cup contender, in part because of the Tavares offseason.

At what point do we start remembering Tavares as a legacy Islander?

At what point do we put behind the bitter Islander fan image around the league and get over the move?

 

Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattWatling99

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