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Monday, January 26, 2009

The Long Island Miracle Man

This editorial by HNLI host Alex Silverman will appear in The Hawkeye, a high school newspaper in Plainview, NY.

John Tavares has been on the radar of the hockey world since middle school. After absolutely dominating every youth league he had ever played in, Tavares was drafted into the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) at the age of fourteen. The OHL, which is among the top junior hockey leagues in North America, granted Tavares “exceptional player” status and allowed him to become the youngest player to ever be drafted into the OHL and was chosen first overall in 2005. Since making the leap to juniors, Tavares has won OHL MVPS, broken OHL records held by Wayne Gretzky, and led Team Canada to the World Junior Championship. Now at the young age of eighteen, NHL teams are chomping at the bit to grab a player who can single-handedly change the direction of a franchise.

Enter the New York Islanders. Just past the midway point of the 2008-2009 NHL season, the Isles sit alone in the cellar of the league standings. While the team is in the midst of a “youth movement”, not one Islander was selected for the NHL’s YoungStars game. The ever-dwindling fan base is failing to fill the seats on a nightly basis and losing faith in a team that seems to never have things go its way. The Lighthouse Project, which is pegged by Owner Charles Wang to revitalize the Coliseum, the area, the fans, and the team as a whole, has seemingly come to a standstill. Recently, in the most newsworthy occurrence of the team’s season, rumors have arisen that the team is set to bail on Long Island and head to a brand new arena in Kansas City. Needless to say, the Islanders have become the laughing stock of the league. Seemingly at an all-time low, the brightest hope for the team’s future rests upon the shoulders of John Tavares.

For years, the Islanders have lacked a superstar presence. The team that since the 1980s boasted goal scorers from Mike Bossy to Ziggy Palffy is anemic when it comes to scoring goals and can only be ignited by the presence of a dynamic offensive weapon. Playing in a building like the Nassau Coliseum and sporting a reputation for being an absolute joke over the last decade, the Isles are a far cry from attracting any big time free agent scorers to come to town. Now, with a superstar like Tavares up for grabs, the Islanders have one chance to add an explosive offensive powerhouse to their lineup.

Tavares’ impact on the team, however, would extend far beyond his offensive prowess. He is the type of player who can truly redefine a franchise and the Islanders need nothing more than a new image right now. With the addition of Tavares, the Islanders would gain the league wide exposure that the Washington Capitals did with the addition of Alexander Ovechkin and that the Pittsburgh Penguins did with the addition of Sidney Crosby. Simply put, Tavares is the only thing that can put the Islanders back on the proverbial map. It is a guy like Tavares who can raise the Islanders to the level where they will be considered for NBC’s national broadcasts, the NHL’s Winter Classic, and the league’s overall marketing.

Aside from bringing recognition back to the Isles, John Tavares would certainly put fans in the seats and might even garner enough attention to get the Lighthouse Project rolling again. As much as Islander fans are pushing for the revitalization of the Nassau Mausoleum, it is tough to expect mass support for a new arena for a team that has been reduced to a mockery. With someone like Tavares to bring respectability back to the Isles, it is only a matter of time before efforts to get the Lighthouse Project underway get serious once more. Without Tavares, the Islanders might be one step closer to absolute irrelevance in the hockey world or even Kansas City.

Every franchise in sports goes through its share of ups and downs. It’s fair to say, however, that the Islanders have been in a near freefall for over a decade. Now, with a light at the end of the tunnel of despair, the future of the Islanders rests on how a few ping-pong balls bounce at the draft lottery in April. Should the balls bounce their way, the Islanders will be lead into the future by a bonafide superstar. With last place a near-certainty, only time will tell whether or not John Tavares will be wearing orange and blue come draft day.

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