It's a familiar feeling when a significant player on the New York Islanders claims he doesn't want to leave Long Island in wake of his expiring contract:
"It's a lot more complicated process than probably people realize,"John Tavares explained regarding his contract negotiations headed into the summer of 2017. "I haven't even really gone through it yet, so I think just looking at a lot of situations that have kind of come over the last couple of years, I think not only from my side but from the team side, just with the management of the cap and obviously the financial side of it, kind of those details that come into it in the negotiation process … obviously you want to enjoy where you're playing and where you're living. But I've always stated that I've always enjoyed those things and I've always been treated really well here. There's no doubt about that for me, so hopefully we can get something done."- Brian Compton, NHL.com
"Hopefully." Well, we know what comes next. The following summer, Tavares left the Islanders' offer on the table and signed a seven-year, $77 million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs to "live a childhood dream." The departure of the former captain left Islander fans shocked, appalled, and betrayed, especially because everyone was led to believe Tavares wanted to remain with the Islanders headed into the 2018 NHL Trade deadline.
"Well, I don’t want to be traded,” Tavares stated after he learned then GM, Garth Snow, would not be trading him at the 2018 NHL trade deadline."- Mark Herrmann, Newsday
All the signs pointed toward Tavares extending with the Islanders, until they didn't. More recently, star center Mathew Barzal expressed similar sentiments about signing an extension with the Islanders:
"Yeah, obviously, I’ve given thought to it,” Barzal explained when asked about signing a long-term contract. “I would love to be here on the Island. This is home, this is where I want to be, this is where I want to win. I love my life here, love the city, the fans, our new rink is amazing. Love wearing the blue and orange. I would love to sign long-term here. I think it's such a cool thing when a player plays his whole career with one team. A lot of my favorite athletes have done that, so it’s obviously something I’d like to follow in as well."- Via New York Islanders Twitter
Now, it's easy to say "I've heard this before," however, these situations are not the same. Under a Charles Wang-owned Islanders team, Tavares was drafted by Snow in 2009. For the better part of nine seasons on the Island, he was filled with empty promises that the Islanders were headed in the direction where they would have a chance to compete for a Stanley Cup. In reality, during Tavares' Islander tenure they only reached the post-season three times. Two of those three playoff appearances were first-round exits and the third a second-round exit. Following consecutive playoff appearances in 2014-15 and 2015-16, the Islanders missed the playoffs twice headed into Tavares' contract negotiation.
A major reason the Islanders couldn't keep said promises to Tavares was Snow's inability to properly equip the Islanders with elite talent surrounding Tavares. Trade deadlines came and went and all Snow could muster up was Shane Prince or Tyler Kennedy. And when Snow made a real attempt to support Tavares with Thomas Vanek in the 2013-14 season, Vanek walked the following summer proving that Long Island was still no longer a destination.
The Islanders arena problem in the Wang-Snow era proved to be their largest obstacle. The uncertainty about the Islanders future hindered the organization's ability to retain long-term assets. The Nassau Coliseum was just not up to par with the rest of the arenas around the NHL and the Barclays Center ultimately failed, so when Tavares had heard about this proposed Belmont arena, there likely was no guarantee in his mind the Islanders could pull it off.
Tavares always said the right thing, he liked where he played and who he played for. Except, the coaches he played for didn't bring much to the table. Scott Gordon's tenure was short-lived, the Jack Capuano era had its highs and lows, and the Doug Weight experiment was... awful.
Barzal has not had the same experience. Sure, he played under Weight in his rookie season, but what he knows now is far greater. A Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky owned Islanders locked down the state-of-the-art UBS Arena, and hired Hall-of-Fame GM Lou Lamoriello who then hired future Hall-of-Fame coach Barry Trotz. The direction of the Islanders has only trended upwards since the change in ownership and organization personnel.
Compared to Tavares, Barzal has been to the postseason an equal amount of times in an Islanders sweater in four fewer seasons. Say what you will about the 2021-22 season, but the belief is that this season was an anomaly and the expectation is that the Islanders will return to the postseason in 2022-23. Further, Barzal knows a management group that delivers at the trade deadline and retains its assets. In consecutive trade deadlines, the Islanders acquired and extended J.G. Pageau (2018-19) and Kyle Palmieri (2019-20), both of who are key assets to today's team.
The success of the Islanders in Barzal's tenure far outweighs the failures. The roster Lamoriello has built is a tight-knit group, one that is determined to see this through and return to the postseason with the goal to raise the Stanley Cup.
Tavares' comments on his contract were filled with "hopes" and "it's complicated." Barzal on the other hand stated "I love my life here," and even declared he wanted to sign "long-term." The comments are dramatically different. There's nothing complicated about where Barzal wants to be and his declaration should leave Islander fans confident that he'll remain on Long Island for a long, long time.