The prize of this year’s NHL free agent class was John Tavares, who is one of the biggest stars to hit the open market in years. He’s a legitimate superstar and, thus, the sweepstakes to land him (or, in the New York Islanders‘ case, keep him) was intense.

Ultimately, it was Tavares’ hometown team in the Toronto Maple Leafs that won that sweepstakes, scoring the prized center with a seven-year, $77 million contract on July 1. 

But since Tavares inked his new deal, we haven’t heard much from him. After he was introduced and took questions in a press conference with the Leafs, Tavares went dark. That’s not entirely surprising considering Tavares is pretty low-key, quiet individual to begin with. But many Islanders fans felt spurned by Tavares’ departure from Long Island, and some wanted a semblance of closure in the aftermath of his absence. 

On Wednesday, they may have gotten some of that closure.

The Players’ Tribune published a piece from by Tavares, one that was penned for Isles fans. In the piece, Tavares provides some insight into his decision to choose the Leafs and how difficult that process actually was. After taking meetings with six teams during the month of June, Tavares recalled the struggle of actually pulling the trigger on making the final call

I collapsed onto the couch that we have out near the pool. And I just started lying there, becoming more and more overwhelmed. Not even thinking, really, but more like … whatever comes after thinking. I was panicked. I felt frozen.

Because it was at that moment, I think, that it finally just hit me. It finally just hit me that I’d taken all the meetings. I’d weighed out all the pros and cons. I’d had all of the conversations with family and friends. It hit me that I’d slept on it … showered on it … eaten on it … flown across the country on it … and now I’d paced around the pool on it more times than I could count. It hit me, in other words, that I had done everything there was to do except make a decision.

But I just couldn’t.

I don’t even mean that I couldn’t decide — because I think at some point that morning, I had decided. Deep down, I think I’d come to realize where I was going to play hockey next season. But there’s deciding … and then there’s making a decision. And it was that very last part that — man. For some reason, I just literally, physically could not do it.

That decision was finally made, and it was Toronto that prevailed above all the other options. The Leafs, who had been discussed as a possible landing spot for Tavares for months and even years prior to his free agency this summer, finally convinced a hometown boy to live out his childhood dream.

Obviously, losing a star player always stings. But for some Islanders fans, this one stung a bit extra because of Tavares’ earlier comments saying he wanted to stay on Long Island. As his impending free agency was brought up over the past few years, Tavares consistently said he hoped to stay with the Islanders — the only team he’d ever known after they drafted him first overall in 2009.

But the Islanders consistently struggled to build a quality roster around their franchise player, winning just one playoff series in Tavares’ nine seasons with the club. This past season, as it became evident that they weren’t going to be postseason contenders, there was chatter that the Islanders should trade Tavares for a package of future assets rather than risk losing him for nothing in free agency.

Tavares, who had a no-movement clause, said he wasn’t interested in a trade, as he was focused on staying on Long Island helping the Islanders’ improve. 

As a result of this, a number of Islanders faithful were pissed with how things shook out, angrily suggesting that he toyed with (and ultimately screwed) the team when he already had his mind made up about wanting to leave.

Tavares addressed this idea directly in the Players’ Tribune piece.

I know how serious this decision was, and how many people it affected. I was given the privilege of some first-rate meetings, with some first-class organizations, the Leafs and the Islanders chief among them. These are amazing franchises, top to bottom — and it meant a lot to me for them to pitch me as potentially being a part of their futures.

Which is why I want to say this as deliberately and as clearly as possible: In no way had I made up my mind yet, as far as where I was signing, before I took those free-agency meetings.

In no way.

I know there will still be some people who feel I should have been traded — or asked for a trade at the deadline. (I respectfully disagree. I was Captain of the team, and I took that role seriously. My focus was on staying in the moment, and doing everything I could to help the Islanders win.) I also know there will still be some people who think I strung everyone along, throughout my free agency, just to get attention. (I didn’t … and if you know me, this one’s pretty funny.)

Of course, Tavares went on to thank the Islanders and their fans for the support and the role that they’ve played in helping to raise him from an overwhelmed teenager to the 27-year-old star he is today. He praised the passion of the fanbase, which he likened to a family.

Overall, Tavares paints a pretty intense picture of the struggle he felt in deciding that the Leafs were the future he wanted, while also weighing that the Islanders carried a past that he didn’t want to leave behind.

Will the essay help quell some of the anger and bitterness that Islanders feel in the wake of his decision to leave? For some, maybe. For others, definitely not. That’s just the way things go with sports and rabid fanbases. 

But, if nothing else, it’s a pretty valuable piece of insight into Tavares’ literal life-changing decision, the process that came with making that decision, and how it’s never as easy a call as it looks on paper.


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