"It's hard to believe that's where I'm at," said Tavares, who has 221 goals and 280 assists (501 points) in 550 NHL games.
"I didn't really know about it until a couple of days ago. Honestly, it's more nice to kind of get it over with. I'll enjoy it at a later date, but credit goes to a lot of the guys I've played with, teammates and coaches and people who have made a big impact since I've come into the League. It makes you appreciate those things, and I just want to keep that going, strive for another 500."
Tavares was drafted first overall in 2009 by a franchise desperate to find a cornerstone player it could build a foundation on. He has been that player, beyond just the 501 points in 550 games.
He is the team’s face and voice and personality. The only way be could have helped the Islanders more than he already has over the last eight years would be if he built a privately-funded arena right next door to Nassau Coliseum with his own two hands during his summers off and paid all the taxes, rent and utilities to the Town of Hempstead out of his own pocket.
Islanders fans as a group are both cynical and spoiled. We have seen (and still see all the time through frequent archival footage and guest appearances) the absolute, historic, once-in-a-lifetime very best the NHL has ever had to offer. We’ve also endured (and will never, ever forget) the very worst times a fan can have - with piles of losses and dreary seasons, relocation rumors, pointless political football games, and feelings of isolation, futility and hopelessness making you wonder why you even do this and not, say, take up another hobby like needlepoint, fly fishing or balloon animal husbandry. We default to the worst case scenario while simultaneously remembering the time our team was the sport’s universe’s best case scenario.
John Tavares isn’t a perfect player, but we’ve seen him progress from a hyped 18-year old phenom to a vaunted place on the Islanders’ All Time scoring list. His 501 points puts him in 10th, two ahead of workman Derek King and only 12 behind No. 9, Bobby Nystrom. Tavares should pass “Mr. Islander’s” 513 points within a month or so which is kind of a big deal. Next would be Bob Bourne at 542 and John Tonelli at 544.
[Update: Tavares scored two goals in his very next game, a 7-4 loss to Carolina, giving him 503 points in 551 games as an Islander. Kind of a big weekend for him.]
And what has the team done for the best player it’s had since its golden era? Not enough.
Team management (which, other than one head coaching change and a few to assistant coaches) has remained consistent throughout Tavares’ Islanders career. Garth Snow built a pretty good team while dealing with suffocating financial constraints. But once that roster reached “pretty good” status with a surprising run to the playoffs in 2013, Snow lost the plot, making more wrong moves than right ones and keeping his team from reaching true contender level. Snow’s first coach was Scott Gordon, who’s technical gameplan never worked with an expansion-level roster. Gordon was replaced in Year Three by Jack Capuano, the poster boy for the phrase “Players’ Coach.” Capuano might be appreciated inside the locker room, but his in-game strategies and his roster’s inconsistent performances have had fans scratching their heads after almost every one of his 226 wins.
One or both of them could be jobless at the end of this season, while Tavares, in case you haven’t heard, will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018. Tavares has said all the right things about wanting to remain an Islander for his entire career, but until he signs on the line that is dotted, no one from Long Island to Buffalo to Toronto will sleep soundly.
He’ll have earned every exorbitant penny of whatever he eventually gets by simply being the best player on the Islanders for almost a decade. It’s galling that the guys paying him didn’t take better advantage of having a player of his caliber on a bargain contract by surrounding him with more talent sooner. Instead, they built so slowly that the 26-year old Tavares is now the grizzled veteran in charge of molding even younger talents like Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier into the next next chance for the Islanders to return to Stanley Cup glory.
And now a quick and very incomplete trip through some of Tavares’ best work.
First goal, Oct. 3, 2009 vs Pittsburgh
While his first point came on an assist on a Mark Streit goal, Tavares’ first goal also came in his first game, a 4-3 loss to the Penguins at Nassau Coliseum.
You don’t get to 501 points in 550 games without some hat tricks
October 15, 2011 versus the Rangers
January 6th, 2014 in a five-point night against Dallas
And a natural hat trick in just a little over five minutes, January 15, 2011 against Buffalo
Exorcising the Devils...
Tavares ties the game with seconds left, then wins it in OT. I love this one so much.
...and raking the Leafs
This was just sweet on a number of levels beyond just the two points.
What about an assist?
Okay, yeah. There are 280 assists to go along with the 221 career goals, too. Here’s one we all remember, in which a diving Tavares finds an open Michael Grabner who feeds Thomas Hickey for his first NHL goal. Naturally, it was in OT.
The hat trick against the Panthers was fun, but Jay Bouwmeester will be seeing this move in his sleep for a long, long time. Good god.
One thing that stands out to me in the earlier goals was the exuberance and energy in Tavares’ celebrations. He’s yelling and pumping fists with everyone around him and looking like he wants the entire arena to follow his lead. In contrast, his goal celebrations this season have been more muted, with some quiet teammate acknowledgements and a glide down the bench for some taps.
Maybe it’s just the difference between a young man and a mature NHL veteran. Or maybe it’s disappointment for how the season’s gone. Or maybe it’s due to his contract uncertainty. Or maybe it’s just a veeeery serious man being very serious about his work.
We could spend hours analyzing Tavares because our lives as Islanders fans move in tandem with his career. He and we both wish his 501 points had come in more wins and had led to more playoff glory (although he’s provided a lot of that, too). But that doesn’t mean we should look past or diminish any of them.
This is our captain. These are his points that he has scored for us. Here’s to 500 more in an Islanders jersey.