There was no question what was on John Tavares’ mind was during the press conference today at the Nassau Coliseum to announce his new six-year contract extension: the Isles center is thinking about the Stanley Cup.
It’s been a long time between championships for the Islanders franchise. Ronald Reagan was in his first term as president the last time the Islanders lifted the Stanley Cup in 1983. The last time the Isles won a playoff series in 1993, Al Arbour was still their coach and Tavares was just two years old.
But in his brief statement at today’s press conference, Tavares mentioned the Stanley Cup four times and once more when answering a question from the press. It was clearly something that was on his mind.
“The Stanley Cup is what we want, it’s what we’re pushing for,” Tavares said. “Obviously, sooner rather than later would be great. For us this season, it’s one day at a time. We have a little more experience now and it’s time for us to take that next step.”
The next step will be qualifying for the playoffs. “If we’re able to be a little more consistent and control those and limit our bad stretches and build on our good stretches and do well within our division, we have a good shot of making the playoffs and that’s our goal,” he added.
Today was a day for the Islanders to promote stability and growth. The signing of Tavares, the former top choice in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, was a big one. Rumors were swirling for months that the Mississauga, Ontario, native was unhappy on Long Island and would leave as soon as his entry level contract expired after the 2011-12 season. Many Canadian fans, especially those around Toronto, were hoping the talented young center would return home.
Today, Tavares put those rumors soundly to rest. “This is a lot about me wanting to be here for a long time,” Tavares explained. “You can send that message that it’s a great place to play. We need a new arena, and hopefully that gets resolved soon, other than that I think it’s a lot of fun here and a great bunch of guys, we’re heading in the right direction. I really believe in this team and this organization.”
Tavares and the Isles are hoping that this major commitment to their marquee player will start to change how the team is viewed throughout the league. “People always have a misconception about our organization and our hockey team,” Tavares said. “We can always get thrown under the radar or hide a little bit…I knew what it’s all about here, I’m here every day and I know what we’re striving for.”
Isles GM Garth Snow has stuck to his plan to build the organization primarily through the draft. He also has done an excellent job of identifying the key core members of the team and signing them to long term deals. Tavares is just the latest and perhaps most important signing, but the list also includes important core of players like Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo.
“It was a priority to get John signed,” Snow said. “We could have waited another year to do that but when you have a special player like John, my own preference is to be proactive, sign him as soon as possible.”
“John is a huge part of this team,” Snow added. “I can’t believe how quickly two years have passed. It seems like we just signed him to his entry level after his draft year. John’s a big part of our young core. He’s a player who strives to be the best he can and from my perspective, I had no reservations making a commitment to John or to any player that brings to the table what John brings on and off the ice.”
So another part of the puzzle has committed to the Islanders for the long term. Slowly but surely, Snow is putting together his team, the team he feels will be a long term contender.
And so the Stanley Cup was on John Tavares’ mind, one day before the opening of training camp. Tavares remains confident that a change in the way the Islanders are perceived by the rest of the hockey world is just around the corner. “Once we start to win and we’re more successful on the ice, people will recognize us a little more and what we’re all about,” Tavares said.
Today was just another step towards that goal.