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The Autopsy of John Tavares

By Danny Radical

Yes, I realize that death has been a theme lately with my views of the New York Islanders. You can read about the Obeseuary of Garth Snow if you’re so inclined. And yet once again Snow failed the Islanders, even in the GM afterlife of his absurd and improbable managerial career.

My initial writing of this piece was at 11:40 pm on June 30, 2018. For the week prior many New York Islander fans, myself included, were waiting any second for the announcement of the 8 year contract extension of John Tavares. That never came. The week since has been dealing with the anger his decision created, including the brilliant movement where people remove the Tavares name from their Islander jerseys and use it to label things in kind, like garbage cans and toilet bowls.

This essay is not going to be my usual choke you with statistics model. Nah. This is going to be a murder mystery, Kojak style.

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Folks, the fan side of me expected John Tavares to stay with his team and finish what he started- a drive towards respectability. Not the rebirth of the “Drive for 5,” which seems like a million years ago. No, that ship needed way more sails and sailors, and did not have the captain or the company to pull it off. But hockey players are astoundingly loyal to the team that birthed their careers. Outside of trades, name 5 superstars who left their initial teams as unrestricted free agents in the prime of their careers. Go on, I’ll wait.

Look at history. Did Joe Sakic, when the Rangers offered him what, $17 million a year back in the 1990’s? Did Eric Lindros ever suit up for Quebec, who ended up getting the better of that deal anyway? Did Wayne Gretzky leave Edmonton as a free agent? Mike Modano? Pavel Datysuk? Patrick Roy? Phil Kessel?
And in Islander Country, howabout our own guys? Did Pat LaFonatine go the UFA route? Pierre Turgeon? Alexei Yashin? Rick DiPietro? And while DP was inconsistent in net, he did re-up for 15 more years to be inconsistent at home.

Speaking of re-up, if he’s still an Islander by the expiration of his next contract, Josh Bailey will have spent 15 years taking paychecks from the New York Islanders. Would there be a less accomplished 15 year career in local sports history?

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I digress. The fan in me wanted JT here. But the unbiased critic? I knew he was leaving. From what I hear, San Jose was compelling in their case for JT, and that if Toronto wasn’t his final destination, it was there. That probably would sting a little less.

But here we are. Islanders fans are pissed at John Tavares for not choosing Long Island as his home. And in all fairness to their consternation, he has stated on numerous occasions that he hoped things would work out here. Except, that’s not something you hope for. That’s something you make happen.

I wrote a bit a couple of months ago with a quote from Tavares saying that he wanted to see the Islanders into their new home. I captioned it “Horseshit.” Because my judgement said that if that’s what he wanted, he would already have extended his contract.

No, what John Tavares was doing was selling horseshit. And I don’t blame him, because that’s what he’s been fed his entire professional career, so it’s all he knows.

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Winners and loser

When a person dies, on occasion an autopsy is performed. As the New York Islander career of John Tavares has truly flatlined, it deserves that same treatment. Was the career of John Tavares murdered? Was it a suicide? Did it die from natural causes? We’re going to investigate this, together. (Editorial note- For the record, I wrote this when I was pretty angry I was going to edit this into something more mainstream and nice, but I decided to let it fly the way it poured out in a stream of consciousness styl

If you want to blame anyone for killing the Islanders career of Tavares before you get around to actually blaming Tavares, you blame Charles Wang, Garth Snow, Doug Weight, John Ledecky, and Scott Malkin. And here’s why.

Lets start with the obvious: Charles Wang is a horrible sports team owner.

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Jail.

I’ve written about this ad nauseam, but I’ll go with the brief summary here:
- Outlasted statute of limitations of the SEC regarding financial crimes
- Sold out his co-owner and partner, sending him to jail
- Bought a sports team for the land. Offered to get a second tenant but fell WAY short of the asking price for an NBA team
- Brought in Arena Football and Indoor Lacrosse to replace said NBA team. Fail
- Tried to buy land around arena to facilitate a Lighthouse project; instead had taxpayers cover the default on his loan
- Took out his vengeance on Islander fans for Nassau County rejecting his overreaching super dense land deal. Can you imagine having Nassau Coliseum surrounded by 15000 full time residents? Fucking dumb
- Surrounded John Tavares with AHL players for the first half of his career (see: Vengeance on Islander fans)
- Let Garth Snow decide who to surround JT with in the second half of his career. Fail
- Moved from an outdated but classic arena into an arena that looks like a generic mall food court
- Let mall food court market team. Which as done mostly on Long Island
- Never took ownership seriously. Not a day. Sumo goalie? Overspeed? Recycled mascot?
- Only invested in team 1) when he felt he could pull off a land grab 2) when prospective owners allowed him to. Beyond that, it was tight wallets and “Fuck you, fans!”

Summary: You’re a real life chupacabra, Charles. You suck the life out of everything. Except you suck it through tax dollars, not from goats. And from fans. And from the alleged mistress that lives by your wife on your property, who probably wears a strap on herself. Allegedly. Also, don’t make the guys from Land Rover do extra paperwork because you’re busy, or else they share little stories like that last one.

Then there’s Garth Snow.

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Summary:

- Three impactful trades over 12 years. Two on same day. The Bob Uecker of GM’s
- Drafted Tavares. Drafted Barzal. Had 80 picks, including 6 in the top 5. That’s all he managed
- Skilled at finding NHL players who get paid less than their contract states
- Awful at valuing players when not inheriting a contract
- Took team from cap floor to cap ceiling and actually regressed
- Made ONE valuable trade deadline deal once. In his first year. Nothing since
- Put on 15 pounds per playoff game win
- Once provided John Tavares with NHL caliber worthwhile support. For 12 weeks.
- Resume objective: Expand upon 12 years of failure

Summary: Eat shit Garth. First off, you like eating, so this is no challenge. Also, you were a Flyer. Philthadelphia is garbage like you, and they didn’t even hire you. Why? Because if they had to pay by the pound, they’d be over the salary cap by $7 billion.

Howabout Doug Weight?

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- Terrible power play coach

- Had a power play go zero-for-the-playoffs. That’s a record for most futile ever in NHL history, in case you were wondering about that
- Terrible Assistant to the GM
- What the fuck is an assistant to the GM? Gets him snacks? Well if that’s the case, Weight is all world
- His guidance led to the acquisition of former teammate Andrew Ladd, who eats balls game in, game out
- Promoted to head coach because why not
- Missed playoffs every year as head coach
- In only full season as head coach he will ever have, had the worst defense in NHL
- In only full season as head coach he will ever have, he had 2 point per game players- one the rookie of the year- and still missed the playoffs. That’s real hard to do
- Blamed fans for team sucking
- Blamed refs for team sucking
- Never blamed himself for team sucking
- You ate absolute balls and man-ass in the 1998 Winter Olympics. Hairy, sweaty man-ass

Summary: Eat a bag of dicks, Doug. You’re a fucking Ranger at heart and that makes you a bum like Dong Maloney. That, and you led zero teams to a cup, then rode coattails for a few games before you ended up watching your team win on TV just like I did. You’re the most useless 1000 points in NHL history

John Ledecky?

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- Your niece wins medals. And is a Caps fan. Because unlike you she hates losing

- Your press conference statement was written by KoKo the Gorilla
- You watched this team for 2 years before you took over, looked at Garth Snow, and said “This is fine.”
- You rode on the train with fans to be a man of the people, then fucking vanished once people started asking you questions like “What do you have against winning a Stanley Cup?”
- You wrote an embarrassing letter to god knows who thanking the governor for god knows what. You’re giving that same governor a billion dollars to build an arena next to an arena that smells like horseshit. Horseshit. Think about that when recruiting free agents
- That arena already has a stupid nonfunctional train station. You’re too busy designing an Arby’s to notice
- You sat next to a guy at a press conference that was dressed like a weekend trail hiker and didn’t ask “Dude, what the fuck are those?”
- Two years into your hands on ownership? Lottery team twice

Summary: Take a jug of vasoline. Stick your hand in it. Make a fist. Jam it up your own asshole. Repeat

Scott Malkin. You were almost the worst of all. Why?

- You actually get it. You wanted to hire winners, so you asked AARP about a GM who was great with a Hall of Fame goalie 20 years ago. Why wait til now to replace Snow with Grandpa?
- You opened up the wallet to hire a relevant coach. Why wait til now to replace nothing?
- You made a successful bid for an arena. Why not build a masterpiece at their true home at 33% of the cost?
- You made moves way too late to be impactful. That how you got rich?
- You watched two years of an investment and thought “we should keep Charles Wang as a 20% owner. He clearly knows how to run shit.”

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Bad idea


- You watched two years of a team playing 18 playoff games, followed by two years of zero playoff games, and said “well, if we just wait til the offseason to make a real move, maybe that will save our franchise player.”
- You watched your star player game your GM for a year, sat back, and said nothing
- Your GM looked like an ape in public representing your team and you didn’t fire him on the spot. Sometimes you eat the poison pill
- You didn’t ask your star player to negotiate or make an offer for him until every other team could as well. And he took a lot less money to leave because he saw how you run shit
- You want a winner without paying attention to it. Did you know there’s a company that lets you buy and name an actual astronomical star? Go for it. You’ll get the same end result as you do with your team

Summary: You watch other men do work for you instead of manning up. You’re a cuck

Lastly, John Tavares. You’re a heartbreaking lying douchebag.

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- Anyone ever test you for emotional IQ?

- Anyone ever test you for regular IQ?
- Seriously, are you a robot?
- What number is this: 01110111001000110101? You know.
- You are overhyped. Are you even top ten at your position in this league? Are you top guy on your team at your position? That goes for teams past and present
- You told the world you wanted to remain an Islander, then never signed a contract to such
- You told the Islanders that you wanted to see everything through, then spent a whopping 14 hours finalizing a contract with Toronto
- You excluded your more talented teammates name at a press conference. I’m betting on purpose, out of the jealousy of never winning rookie of the year. But hey, you have that rule named after you, so you got that going for you
- You had a crazy loyal uncle who is a lacrosse legend. You are now the equivalent to Marian Hossa. No one gives a shit about Marian Hossa
- You’re not the best player on your team. Austin Matthews scored 40 goals as a rookie. Have you ever scored 40 goals? Austin Matthews has scored 74 goals in 144 career games. It took you 243 games to score your first 84 goals.
- Since Matthews has been in the NHL? He’s outscored you by 9 goals in 15 less games. This is his team. You are hockey’s Kevin Durant.
- Just like Josh Bailey rode your coattails, you’ll be riding Matthews. This is his team until he decides where to let his pajamas take him. Ideally via offer sheet from Uniondale next summer
- You asked not to be traded at the deadline. You willfully chose to hurt the Islanders by not taking away pieces from your precious pajamas home. Smells like collusion to me. Bettman should get his vampire skin looking ass investigating
- You expect anyone to believe that you hadn’t made up your mind as to where you were going until you saw a picture of yourself in Maple Leafs bedsheets on the morning of July 1? Nonsense. Utter nonsense
- Your agent is a douche for not pointing out that you just passed on $11 million guaranteed dollars that would kick in long before the time when you are older and even slower. Thankfully the agent lost 3% of that sum
- Long Island did a very Long Island thing for you: they showed you that they cared, from the heart. Free bagels, free seafood, free pizza, free custom guitars and music lessons, free tutoring for your unborn kids, all delivered to your door for the rest of your life. You pissed on it. Did you even say thanks but no thanks? Prick
- The Governor of New York got half of the home schedule moved back to a 5 minute commute for you, for pretty much forever. That’s unheard of
- Compared to the last time Toronto won a cup? The Islanders feel modern
- The guy that built the team you bolted for? He works for the Islanders.
- The coach in Toronto that won a cup with Hasek, Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Lidstrom, Rafalski, Draper? You have nothing like that there
- The coach you left? Just won the cup a few weeks ago with one superstar and a supporting cast. Like you would be for Barzal
- In that sissy ass pajamas picture? You have a Naboo Starfighter. Jar Jar Binks is from Naboo. Naboo sucks. You’re the Jar Jar Binks of the NHL
- Also, the Phantom Menace sucks. So do the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. They’re coached by Scott Gordon. You were coached by Scott Gordon. You like the Phantom Menace. By the law of Modus Tollens, you eat moose shit

Summary: You wanted to go to Toronto when you were 4. Thanks for screwing over an entire organization to make your boyhood dreams an expensive reality while hosing your loyal teammates. You set a poor example to the young players on your team. Both teams. Your karma tells me that you will end your career with no Stanley Cups, the fate every other me first player has suffered. And your pajamas say that you may be into plushie porn.

The purpose of an autopsy is to determine what killed a person. In writing this, I couldn’t point to just one cause. And I was WAY too heated upon the initial response to see any other point of view other than how Tavares screwed over the Islanders, and how incompetent management was in his 9 year Islander career.

So I phoned a friend- a former NHL All Star who just so happened to play NHL hockey on Long Island and who may have some insight on the process that Tavares went through, even if I interrupted his game of Zelda at the time. For the purpose of this story, we’ll call him “Not JT.”

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Not my source

What he explained to me (I’m not going to directly quote to protect my source, but I’ll paraphrase the shit out of our convo) was that when it comes to free agency, a player goes with his gut. However, that gut does not make public pronouncements about wanting to stay in one place.

Worse than that, what if Tavares was telling his teammates the same message? That’s a professional no-no, according to Not JT. Not JT explained that when it was his time, he told his teammates that he was in a position where the team wasn’t committing the way he felt they should have, so he had to explore other options. He also said that despite this, he associates his career identity as an Islander. I will bet you money that JT91 will not say the same thing a decade from now.

He also said that if JT knew where he wanted to go, he should have told the organization so they could trade him there, so that maybe they could recoup something, like picks or players or prospects. He was clearly bothered that JT left the organization with absolutely nothing to show for him.

Now, some have said that the somewhat pedestrian looking girlfriend of JT91 was the lure to his taking a job with Toronto. Not JT said that when it comes to those decisions, a couple will discuss it daily, but in the end it’s all on the player. When it comes to those kinds of millions, you can move anywhere and be comfortable.

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Not my source either

Not JT also shared something really insightful. When I asked about Tavares leaving over $10 million on the table, he said at this point that money would not be life changing to Tavares. That is insight and wisdom that comes from experience in living in the world of professional sports. But it also made me wonder, was that bridge deal from Garth Snow smart in the long run? Was the $30+ million Tavares already accrued enough to say to the Islanders “Screw you?” Maybe if the offer didn’t take a year of free agency, and was in the $3 million range back when he could have, and if the UFA window didn’t fall at a time unique to JT and there was competition for resources, well…what if?

There were other free agents available in the year Tavares was supposed to be a free agent. What if T.J. Oshie waits to sign a deal because there’s a bidding war ready to break out? Would Patrick Marleau be in Toronto? Would the Rangers have surpassed Shattenkirk to shore up the offense with a JT?

What I’m ultimately getting at is this- once again Garth Snow dicked up a contract. Andrew Ladd certainly isn’t complaining. Josh Bailey shouldn’t ever complain.

I asked Not JT if this signing was maybe the beginning of a trend, where players who are overpaid as an RFA get to around age 27 and say “I’ve made my money, now I can do what I want.” We’re seeing such an example right now in the NBA with the Boogie Cousins deal with the Golden State Warriors. He chewed hard on the question, and ultimately left it as a “we’ll see.” As Islander fans consider the fate of Matthew Barzal and his sudden importance to the team, there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

But then Not JT did a funny thing. He imparted knowledge that was earned over a long NHL career. He said that the corpse of Tavares is just a moment in time. He asked me some questions, of which I’ll share:
- What was the Islanders biggest weakness last year?
- What was the Islanders best strength last year?
- What areas does the team need to address?
- What areas has the team already addressed?

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The Islanders biggest weaknesses last year were in coaching and management. Both of these have been address head on. We both were stunned that Barry Trotz is now the head coach of the New York Islanders. Not JT assured me that Lou will waste no time in fixing problems- he’s a winner, and he WILL NOT allow the Islanders to play in the tank.

Not JT reminded me that the Islanders were a top 10 team in goals scored. Yes losing Tavares will hurt- he said to expect fall off from Anders Lee and Josh Bailey (I expect a huge fall off from Bailey, personally)- but he also pointed out that the bigger concerns were on defense and goaltending, and felt that those would be addressed. Since then, the Islanders have acquired a starting goalie, and have plenty of cap space to acquire any defenseman they can.

Lastly, Not JT put this thought in my head- elite athletes have egos. Toronto has an elite athlete as the face of the franchise. Now Toronto lays out tons of money to import a new face of the franchise. This may upset an apple cart that has already been rumored to be unsteady. I asked why offer sheets weren’t so prominent in the NHL, and Not JT said that all of those draft picks you’d surrender have a value.

So I floated my idea of biting the bullet and offering Austin Matthews $70 million for the next 7 years next summer. He agreed that it would be a great middle finger to Toronto, but only if they matched the offer.

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Next year...

This is usually the time where I say something about Garth Snow screwing up, the Islanders looking rudderless, and use the decade old catchphrase “More of the same.” That’s easy to do when looking at the autopsy report of John Tavares, who was abused, poisoned, and offed himself all at once.

But Not JT cast an interesting light on this uncertain path. The Islanders are NOT about last season. They are about next season. Perpetually. He liked their draft. He liked their cap space. He loved their leadership. His outlook? The team will rebound without Tavares. They will look and play different. And you know what? After 12 years of failure, that’s a welcome concept.

The last thing I’ll mention is something Not JT said about Islander fans. He said that the vast majority of fans buy jerseys and t shirts with the name of the current star player on the back. But Islander fans? What they wear is a history lesson. A champion. A hall of famer. A favorite player. A jersey from a time in life where a game changed the way they saw the world. An obscure guy that maybe they once met. As Islander fans, we do not see our identity as John Tavares. We see ourselves as a dynasty. As Fish Sticks. As underdogs. As underachievers. As overachievers. As local heroes.

Also, Not JT is a really good dude. First round at the Coli is on me, amigo.

Not JT said that he has seen people wear his name and number on their back, and it’s a humbling experience. And that made his point so concise. As fans, we will live through this. We have assuredly seen worse. Kirk Muller comes to mind. Does losing JT suck? Yes. It’s insulting, and its scary. We offered almost a $100 million dollars and he said no. Are we that ugly?

But in the long run, we WILLL bury that body. We WILL move on to the next batch of great Islanders. We will embrace him as we have Bossy and LaFontaine and Palffy and Berard and Dipietro and Tavares. Shit, we embraced Maruiz Czerkawski at the Coli, waving Polish flags in the 300’s. We have always embraced our heroes without ever replacing them. We always made room for one more. The Lucky 7 line- which produced that feel good Shawn Bates penalty shot? Their grit built the stage for enjoying the best 4th line in hockey, and our first playoff series win since 1993.

I’ll even go as far to say that the best 91 to play for the Islanders was Butch Goring, and the best JT was John Tonelli. Both of those guys are champions that JT91 could never overshadow, if that’s what he was after.

So to close the books on this investigation, there is plenty of blame to go around. But that’s the past. For the first time since Al Arbour we have an elite coach behind our bench, and for the first time since Bill Torrey we have a GM that has win a Stanley Cup. This is a new day. It’s the first week of July. Let’s strap in and see where this funeral procession ends up. Something tells me that this isn’t the end of the ride, and this is definitely NOT more of the same.

*No, Danny Radical has NOT consumed any #IslesKoolAid during the writing of this article.