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John Tavares on relaxing, leadership and bad ice beyond Brooklyn

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The Islanders captain opens up about a bunch of topics to Sportsnet

NHL: New York Islanders at Toronto Maple Leafs
This ice is not nice.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

In a wide-ranging Q&A with Luke Fox of Sportsnet, Islanders captain John Tavares spoke openly about many topics, including one once thought alien to him: Relaxing.

The very serious Tavares, compared by Fox to Matt Damon’s laconic killing machine Jason Bourne, talked about taking some time off following the Islanders’ second round playoff elimination and watching the rest of the NHL postseason until he could stand the sidelines no more.

I took a good four weeks off, tried to get away a bit. I enjoy watching the game, too, so I still watched the playoffs. I’ve watched the final every year since I was a kid. You want to take time to assess how you feel physically, how you want to approach the summer. I didn’t really go anywhere this year. When I was out in Vegas for the awards, me and my girlfriend did a little touring. Saw the Grand Canyon and a couple shows. Played a little golf. Then after three or four weeks, you start feeling that itch and a bit of guilt to start training again.

Tavares’ offseason itinerary also included seeing immortal magic showman David Copperfield, another thing I’m sure most of us couldn’t really picture him doing.

After some questions about the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, at which Tavares will suit up for Team Canada, Fox asked about the Islanders first season at Barclays Center. Although he’s been asked these same questions about 1,400 times this season, Tavares once again reiterated that after an adjustment period, he and his teammates got used to their new home as did the operations staff at the arena.

It was a major change in that sense, but the second half of the year we dialed in a routine of meeting at the practice rink early for an optional skate, then guys could get out early and enjoy a day at home. Even though they had to leave 30 or 40 minutes earlier than usual, we were able to get a rhythm, and I think it showed in the way we played in the second half.

On the subject of Barclays Center’s ice being sub-par, Tavares said it was at its best in the playoffs and wasn’t even the worst ice he played on last season. Here’s the money quote from the whole piece (emphasis mine):

Is the Barclays Center ice really as bad as its reputation?

Yeah, it had its moments. To be dead honest, I think the worst ice I skated on all year was in Toronto. It was so hot the one game [on March 9*], I couldn’t believe how warm it was. We were playing there on a back-to-back, and by the end of the third period we couldn’t even move.

(*I remember that 4-3 shootout loss pretty well. The Islanders had just played the Rangers and Penguins that week and by the end of the game against the Leafs, they looked like someone had replaced their skates with comfy bedroom slippers. A point is a point, but man, that was tough to watch. Guess it wasn’t just them.)

That’s the second time in the last few weeks that Tavares has thrown shade at his hometown, which just so happens also has an NHL team that no doubt wants to get its hands on him when and if he becomes a free agent in 2018. Tavares told Toronto’s Sportsnet Radio back in July that he’s committed to the Islanders “for the long haul,” and earlier this week, told Arthur Staple of Newsday that he has no desire to leave the team that drafted him for anyone, Maple Leafs or otherwise.

As much as I appreciate him saying these things (and making Canadians cry), we might get to a point where Tavares doth protest too much on this topic. The best way to shut the whole operation down will be putting pen to paper as soon as he can on an extension, which would be signed as early as next July 1. Sounds like Tavares and new co-owner Jon Ledecky feel the same way.

Finally, Tavares talks about teammates past and present. He gushes over now-former Islanders “fun” Matt Martin (“He’s just very easygoing, easy to talk to. Unlike me—I’m more straight and narrow—he likes to put himself out there a bit.”) and good friend Kyle Okposo, who helped Tavares in more places than just the ice.

We were roommates my rookie year. Even though it was only his second year, he really opened my eyes, not just about the game, but he opened my personality. I was a very shy kid, so hockey-focused. He helped me be more comfortable in my own shoes off the ice. How to be a good teammate, how to be a good leader, what life is like in the NHL.

Leadership is also what the Islanders are looking for from new addition Andrew Ladd. Tavares sounds eager to pick the brain of the two-time Stanley Cup champion and welcomes another voice in the locker room that carries some weight.

I just give him a tremendous amount of respect. I’m going to rely on his leadership. It’s great to have a guy to bounce things off of, someone to give you advice. The more, the better. That’s only going to help our team and help myself, being able to lean on guys like that. People think the captain knows everything. They don’t. They need guys they can lean on and help you when you’re going through certain things in your game or trying to get a pulse and manage certain issues in the locker room. You need a different perspective.

Whether or not the Islanders are better with Ladd, Jason Chimera and P.A. Parenteau rather than Okposo, Martin and Frans Nielsen is the central question of not only their offseason but their entire next year. What they may have lost in talent, they definitely gained in age and experience. How or even if this is going to work has been keeping us on edge all summer.

But we can rest assured that Tavares is going to try like hell to make it work no matter what it takes. This is your captain.