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Tavares’ decision not weighing down Isles

Islanders' Captain Pushing Teammates Despite Pending Free-Agent Status

September 20, 2017 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Islander captain John Tavares is pushing hard in training camp, ignoring his pending free-agency status that has been the talk of virtually the entire offseason for the organization. AP Photo by Paul Sancya
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The captain should always go down with his ship.

Unless of course, he’s just as likely to get $80 million elsewhere.

The New York Islanders, on the verge of opening their third, and perhaps most important, season here in Downtown Brooklyn in a few short weeks, insist their undisputed leader John Tavares is still very much with them, and pushing them toward what they hope will be a banner campaign.

“He’s a presence,” Islanders head coach Doug Weight said during the team’s ongoing training camp of Tavares, who celebrated his 27th birthday Wednesday.

“That’s what great players are, great people and he has that presence and respect and people want to follow him.”

But Tavares, a two-time Hart Trophy (MVP) finalist, has yet to sign what many predict will be a 10-year, $80 million extension to remain in New York, something general manager Garth Snow and the rest of the organization hoped to accomplish before the start of camp.

The franchise’s poster boy and best player since being selected first overall in the 2009 NHL Draft is still apparently weighing his options, which is an understandable strategy considering the Isles’ current predicament.

The Isles are likely to opt out of their lease agreement with Barclays Center in January, the first opportunity they will have to do so.

Co-owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin are putting together a Bid for Proposal to secure an arena site in Belmont, N.Y.

Also, the team has managed just one playoff series win since 1993, which came courtesy of Tavares’ Game 6 overtime goal during a first-round series with Florida during the Isles’ inaugural campaign in Downtown Brooklyn in 2015-16.

Last season, the Isles fired longtime head coach Jack Capuano midway through what appeared to be a disastrous campaign before catching fire under interim Doug Weight. New York went a blistering 24-12-4 down the stretch, falling a single point shy of a playoff berth.

However, Tavares, who spearheaded the initial charge toward the postseason, missed out on the Isles’ last five games due to a bizarre hamstring injury, suffered, some say, due to shoddy ice conditions at Barclays Center.

Will he stay or will he go? That will be the question Islander fans and the media will be asking throughout this coming campaign.

But according to Weight, who is determined to drive this team back into serious contention for its first Stanley Cup title since the halcyon days of the 1980s, Tavares is fully on board with fulfilling his role as captain and commander of what some might describe as a teetering ship.

“He’s a pulse, he’s the energy,” Weight said of Tavares on the team’s website.

“It’s not that everybody doesn’t work as hard, but it’s just that thing he has, that drive … If I forget to blow the whistle at the end of that one-on-one drill, I look down and he’s still making 12 moves and banging and the D is like ‘why are we still going I think the drill is over.'”

Tavares’ hunger to make the Isles relevant again should rub off on his teammates, including one of the newest ones, recently acquired forward Jordan Eberle.

Brought in to provide some scoring punch alongside Tavares on the team’s top line, Eberle was doubtlessly brought in by Snow with the captain’s contentment in mind.

For too long now, and especially since the franchise parted ways with forwards Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo the summer before last, Tavares has been a brilliant orchestrator lacking the necessary components of a high-scoring line.

His point totals have gone down dramatically, 86 points in 2014-15, 70 in ’15-16 and 66 a season ago, the first two years here in Brooklyn.

But those numbers figure to trend back upward with Eberle in the fold, and Tavares with the team for a full training camp after missing two weeks last year while pursuing a gold medal at the World Championships with Team Canada.

“He doesn’t take a break and it’s that thing,” Weight said. “It’s almost as if somebody else did that, you’d look at the guy like, ‘Oh what are you doing?’ But it’s not phony, it’s sincere it’s just a quality and it’s pretty special.”

While he’s remained mum on his pending free agency, Tavares hasn’t shied away one bit from prodding the Orange and Blue back into playoff contention and potentially a Stanley Cup Final, a goal they haven’t reached since 1984.

“For me it’s just about that journey and us coming together and wanting to achieve that ultimate goal, and that’s what drives us all,” Tavares said before camp opened.

“We believe it in that locker room.”

Believing isn’t likely to be enough to keep Tavares here in Brooklyn, or Belmont, going forward.

The Isles will have to follow his lead on the ice, and return to serious Stanley Cup contention before the captain agrees to sign on the dotted line.

That quest officially begins Oct. 6 in Columbus, Ohio against the Blue Jackets.

* * *

In other local pro sports news, the Nets announced this week that Olivier Sedra will be there new public-address announcer this season, replacing longtime arena voice David Diamante. 

Sedra joins the Nets’ game presentation team after serving as PA announcer for the Cleveland Cavaliers for 11 NBA seasons.

Sedra, a Montreal native fluent in French as well as English, also represented the Cavs internationally at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the 2015 NBA Africa game in Johannesburg, South Africa, as well as the 2016 and 2017 NBA All-Star events. 

“I’m really excited to get started with the Nets and Barclays Center,” said Sedra. 

“Brooklyn is building something special and I’m honored to be a part of it. With Barclays Center’s expansive programming, there is also tremendous opportunity to get involved in other events.”

“Olivier’s booming voice, impeccable timing and high basketball IQ will be a great addition to the game experience at Barclays Center,” said Brett Yormark, chief executive officer of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment. 

“His knowledge and passion will also help us elevate our other programming, including college basketball, boxing and special events.” 

Sedra will make his regular-season debut when the Nets tip off their home opener on Friday, Oct. 20 versus Orlando.

 


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