John Tavares is heading home.
Not everyday you can live a childhood dream pic.twitter.com/YUTKdfMALl— John Tavares (@91Tavares) July 1, 2018
Earlier in the day, it was reported that he was doing the unthinkable for Islanders fans: leaving. Tavares posted a note on Twitter:
"To All Islanders fans,
These past 6 days have been nothing I could have ever expected. Making the toughest decision of my life: to stay where I have been my entire career or take a calculated leap of faith into an opportunity that I believe will be special to me and my family. The island has been home, it's what I know, it's part of me -- it always will be. I can't thank you all enough for the dedication you have all showed. I'm sorry if this decision pains you, as you can tell it wasn't easy, but have trust in the future because it is bright. The Islanders are in great hands. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to be an Islander for as long as I did. The island, the fans, the organization, my teammates will always be special to me and my family but its time to live my childhood dream here in Toronto."
Tavares, 27, was the gem of free agency this year, and the Islanders will see him walk without getting anything in return.
Tavares is a five-time All-Star who has been the face of the Islanders since he was the first overall pick in the 2009 draft and came up as a 19-year-old.
"The New York Islanders would like to thank John Tavares for everything he has done for the franchise throughout the past nine seasons," Islanders president of hockey operations and general manager Lou Lamoriello said in a statement. "John has achieved great individual success on the ice, as well as devoting a tremendous amount of his time and energy to the community. We wish him and his family all the best."
The New York captain, who is coming off a six-year, $33 million contract, had 37 goals and 47 assists last season. Despite his production, the Islanders missed the playoffs for the second straight season. They have been to the postseason only three times in his career and never advanced past the conference quarterfinals.
Tavares has played for four head coaches in New York, which has had stadium issues. He started his Islanders tenure at the deteriorating Nassau Coliseum before moving to the Barclays Center in 2015. The basketball-first arena has had ice issues and sight-line problems for hockey, and the Islanders announced they are building their own arena at Belmont Park. Until it is completed in 2021, however, the team will split time between Barclays and a refurbished Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders had been hoping that Tavares would remain to be the star on their new stage.
"I just felt this opportunity was just so rare, the timing of where the organization's at and obviously the connection being from here,'' Tavares said. "I really believe there's a big window here to win, to be part of something special. It just felt right.''
Tavares specifically referenced Matthews and 21-year-old center Mitch Marner, who led the Leafs with 69 points last season, as reasons to be optimistic.
"They've accomplished so much in such little time. You can only think about the trajectory they're on, and that's what gets me excited,'' Tavares said.
The Leafs had a franchise-best 105 points last season but lost to the Bruins in seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
Tavares spent last week meeting with the Islanders, San Jose, Toronto, Dallas, Tampa Bay and Boston. By waiting until Sunday, Tavares gave up the opportunity to sign an eight-year extension with the Islanders.
In a bid to retain Tavares, the Islanders underwent an organizational makeover in recent months under still relatively new owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky. They hired Lamoriello as president of hockey operations/GM and fresh Stanley Cup winner Barry Trotz as coach.
Tavares also addressed the Islanders brass on Twitter:
"To The New York Islanders,
I've been so fortunate to be an Islander not only because of the love and support of the fan base, but because of how lucky I was to be around so many great people. From ownership through management, staff and of course all my teammates, they helped me mature and grow into who I am today. I will always be thankful for how they molded and guided me to be a better person and hockey player. Memories and friendships that I will forever hold close to my heart. Thank you everyone for your impact on me, I will always be grateful. My words will never be able to fully show the impact my time on the Island had on me."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.