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Are The New York Islanders Ruining John Tavares, Or Can He Save Them?


To many people, it was a surprise when John Tavares signed a 6 year contract extension a full year before his entry level contract expired, before the 2011-12 season.  Many expected Tavares to try to get out of Long Island as soon as he possibly could, given the recent struggles of the franchise.  Well perhaps that isn’t right.  Many people in Tavares’ position would probably try to get out of Long Island ASAP.  Tavares seems committed to restoring the Islanders to greatness, or at least past the level of laughinstock.

Feb 26, 2013; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) controls the puck against the Boston Bruins during the third period of an NHL game at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Bruins defeated the Islanders 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Four years in, it seems like the uphill battle is still being waged.  Tavares himself has improved every season since his rookie year in terms of offensive production.  He has led the Islanders in scoring every season since he came into the league, dragging the New York offense along with him kicking and screaming.  He has dragged Matt Moulson from a player who couldn’t crack the NHL on a regular basis in LA to an all-star caliber player.  As much as his offense has improved each year, the same cannot be said for the team around him.  They haven’t finished higher than 27th overall in the league in his three full seasons, as the franchise continues to try to recover from years of mismanagement that I wrote about before the Islanders visited Ottawa a couple of weeks ago.

If the Islanders are going to get out of this incessant downward spiral, they are going to have to draft much better.  Only four of the 45 players the Islanders selected between 2005 and 2009 have played 200 or more games (Tavares, Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo and Andrew MacDonald).  They seem to be on the right track in that area with recent first rounders Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome and Griffin Reinhart, as well as showing relative patience with those prospects and not rushing them to the NHL before they are ready, as they did with Bailey and to a lesser extent Okposo, although he hasn’t developed into the supreme power forward like the Islanders would have hoped.

Tavares is already a star, and on the verge of superstar.  For that to occur, one of two things need to happen: 1) He needs to be surrounded by a proper supporting cast to help shoulder the weight of a franchise; or 2) He needs to get out of the quicksand that has been Long Island (and soon to be Brooklyn) and move to a more stable and competitive franchise, just like Rick Nash just did.

Tavares, like any other player in the NHL, is not capable of carrying a team on his back for a full season, which is what the Islanders seem to be asking him to do.  He can and will be a leader and the reason the Islanders get good once again, but he can’t do it alone, and he can’t stop pucks either.

Nor can he be GM.  But then again, maybe Charles Wang should give him that job too.  Either way, give Tavares credit for willing to stick around and see if he can be the man who brings the Islanders back to respectability.  It is a long climb.  I don’t think they have ruined him, yet, but they certainly aren’t allowing him to blossom to his full potential,  Lets just say they are stunting his growth as a player.  The jury is still out on whether he can save them.

Ottawa visits the Islanders Sunday afternoon at 3:00 pm