Thursday night’s game against the New York Rangers will mean nothing at the end of the day for the 2017-18 season. But it could very well be one of the most significant moments in the recent history of the Islander franchise.
Essentially an exhibition game, the rivalry matchup marks the final regular season game at home for the Islanders and possibly the final home game for John Tavares in an Islanders sweater. That fact won’t be lost on the fans that show up for the home finale on Thursday and wasn’t lost on the reporters gathered around Tavares after the team’s practice on Wednesday on Long Island.
However, the man at the center of it all tried to downplay the significance of it.
“I haven’t even thought about that, but now that you bring it up … I don’t know,” Tavares said via NHL.com. “I’m just going to try to go about my business the same way. I don’t want to signal it as the end. I’m not approaching it that way, so I’m just trying to play one game at a time and focus on finishing strong and worry about my situation in the days and weeks that come after the season and take some time to decompress from the year, and then start to look forward.”
The questions Tavares faced on Wednesday were nothing new, but the fact that they remain so late in the 2017-18 campaign certainly have raised the anxiety levels of a fan base that was already anxious to start the year. There was a concern when Tavares didn’t re-sign on July 1 last year and then again when he still hadn’t put his signature on a new contract at the start of the season.
And it only grew stronger as the season progressed and the Islanders’ star remained unsigned after this season.
Tavares has never wavered in his message that he wants to remain a member of the New York Islanders and how much he has enjoyed his time on Long Island. Even on Wednesday Tavares still expressed that hope that in the end a deal will get done.
“I hope it all works out, too, and I’m back as well,” Tavares said. “That’s all I can really control right now. I just want to focus on one game at a time and finishing the season strong. The days and weeks ahead, I’ll have plenty of time to think about it and start looking at the future and moving forward.”
With nothing meaningful left to play for, all eyes will be on Tavares on Thursday night. Every moment during warmups, every shift he takes during the game and those final moments he’s on the ice after the buzzer sounds.
The hockey world saw Erik Karlsson skate to an empty net and grab the game puck before leaving the ice. Could a similar situation play out with Tavares on Thursday?
At this point, anything is possible.
At the end of last season it was hard to imagine the Islanders would let the situation get to this point. But here we are.
The eve of the final home game and Tavares’ fate as an Islander is up in the air.