John Tavares played nine seasons with the New York Islanders, the first nine seasons of his career. In that span, he was their star player, the one spot of hope on a team that was floundering in mediocrity. They played in the playoffs three times with Tavares, never making it out of the second round. Tavares then went to the Maple Leafs in free agency, near his hometown of Mississagua, and he now plays on the No. 3 team in the Atlantic while the Islanders are winning the Metropolitan.
A happy ending for everyone, right? Not exactly. In Tavares' "homecoming" to New York on Thursday, he was jeered mercilessly by the Islander faithful, being called a traitor and a Judas, and some fansto reflect their true feelings.
Fans in Nassau Coliseum kept that same energy all night. The Islanders routed the Maple Leafs 6-1 in his return, and Tavares was ultimately a nonfactor. A number of different chants cropped up, including "it's your bedtime" and "where's your jammies" (a reference to a photo Tavares posted of himself as a child wrapped up in Maple Leafs pajamas after he signed).
Some chants were a bit more not safe for work, but others included "we don't need him." Plastic snakes were also thrown onto the ice, and a sweater was thrown at Tavares as he left the ice after his warmup.
Ultimately the grievance of the night was the Islander fans felt lied to. There was a ton of push-pull throughout the saga of his free agency before he ultimately signed with his hometown team. They let Tavares know as much, and the boos reached a fever pitch when "thank you, John" appeared on the Nassau Coliseum's video boards.
It was a weird type of dissonance, to be sure. Wes McCauley brought his usual flair to an offsides call on Tavares as well, when after a Barry Trotz review he announced -- as only he can -- that Tavares was over the line. It was one of the more unintentionally hilarious moments of the night.
After the nightmare of a night, Tavares said that he'd prepared for his reception.
"They always made it tough on the opponent when I played here," Tavares said. "They have their feelings, and that's out of my control."
Tavares added that the tribute was "nice," despite the cacophony that accompanied it.
The Maple Leafs are still chasing the Bruins for second in the Atlantic, but it felt like Thursday night was always going to go this way. It's a measure of revenge for Islander fans who felt betrayed. But the thought of these two teams meeting in a playoff series is a very real possibility -- the atmosphere from Islander fans in that scenario is hard to imagine if it does come to pass.