Sunday, January 22, 2012

Island of No Escape or Paradise Island??

The folks over at The Hockey News put out an article in their print edition (it's available online if you have a subscription, as well) about John Tavares and how it seems that he's "stranded" on Long Island and won't have the ability to show off his true talent on a national stage because of where he plays and the people around him. It's a topic that seems to have haunted him for a while, as the Globe and Mail tackled the subject in September of 2009.

The points made in both (as I have only skimmed both) are that Tavares is on a team that is struggling and really has no chance for accelerated success to be held over for a long period of time. And to an extent, it's a true statement. Long Island isn't necessarily the most desired place for some of the bigger production players long to be, especially with the crazed reputation of the owner and the unknown of the future of the team and whether they would stay in their mausoleum of an arena for much longer. It doesn't have the allure of what the Penguins had, a superstar player who was drafted and hot shot owner who was able to secure a new arena deal, even when times seem bleak.

But the notion that Tavares couldn't possibly be happy in Uniondale is a tad presumptuous. While it may not be the most desirable place for a young player to get development, it could be what Tavares needs in order to find himself as a player.

Let's be honest, Tavares has always been in the spotlight in his junior career. So much so, that he has a rule named after him in Major Junior hockey, as he was considered an exceptional player in Junior A hockey-- the OHL was allowed to have him available to be drafted at age 14 rather than 15. The spotlight continued to shine through in his first year, putting up 45 goals and 77 points his first year-- then exploding for 170 goals and 356 points in the following 182 games in the OHL before getting drafted. He's a player who has been under the microscope....and maybe it's not for him.

While some other players thrive in the spotlight, thrive in the media attention, and enjoy the criticism to make him better-- Tavares may not be that kind of player. He may have to be humbled for a bit and learn what kind of player and leader he is before he makes a lot of noise on the bigger scene of things. With the Islanders, he's got the ability to have the bigger market feel, but not the big market attention. He's on a team where he can grow and build along with other guys his age, which allows chemistry to build rather than actually having to deal with high-priced free agents coming in for a couple years just to collect a payday. This hardship could be what Tavares wants to show his manner of man he is as a player.

It has been a little rough for Tavares, as success hasn't come easy--- only 72 goals and 169 points in 207 games-- but he's growing as a player and shouldn't be expected to be the wunderkind that Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin were. Plus, he's learning more tricks of the trade while adjusting to NOT being in the spotlight and trying to tune his game to a team mentality rather than just being the whole effin' show for a team. Always good to learn young.

That all said, it does make you wonder about what he could actually do with some kind of support around him that could compliment him well, much like Steven Stamkos has in Martin St. Louis. Also, you have to question of whether the reality check of getting into the NHL after a successful junior career was something he's trying to adjust to.

As it goes, Tavares is excelling this year-- 19 goals and 48 points in 46 games-- 10 goals and 19 points away from his season-highs in the past two seasons of his play. He's signed until the end of the 2017-18 season and will have plenty of time to grow in Long Island....or wherever owner Charles Wang finds a place for him. There's plenty of great things to come from Tavares, but he's going at his own pace and trying to round-out his game in a different location. To assume he wants out just for the sake of wanting out is not only a knock on the Islanders, but also the skill of Tavares that he can't save a team-- which makes me wonder why people would want him if he's just going to be a hanger on.

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