Mark Madden: Islanders fans booing John Tavares is perfectly understandable |
Mark Madden, Columnist

Mark Madden: Islanders fans booing John Tavares is perfectly understandable

New York Islanders fans express their sentiments toward Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares (91) after he left for Toronto in the offseason after saying he would stay with the Islanders during the first period against the Maple Leafs, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Uniondale.

Last Thursday, John Tavares played at the New York Islanders’ home rink (one of them) as a member of the visiting team for the first time.

Tavares had 621 points over nine years as an Islander. But he only played in 24 playoff games and won just one postseason series. During last season, his final one with the Islanders, Tavares intimated he might re-sign before/upon hitting free agency. But they all say that. Tavares was always going to go to Toronto, his hometown. And he did.

Did Tavares deserve a hero’s welcome upon returning?

He certainly didn’t get one.

It was nasty. Tavares was booed constantly. A plastic snake was hurled in his direction. The abuse was loudest when his tribute video was played. Signs described him as “Judas.” The prevalent chant was, “We don’t need you!”

Those chanting that might be right: The Islanders won, 6-1. They sit second in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division, five places higher than last season’s nonplayoff finish with Tavares. They have just three points fewer than Tavares’ more-heralded Maple Leafs.

Lots of people got their knickers in a twist over the abuse Tavares absorbed.

But I’ve got no problem. I see nothing wrong.

Athletes like Tavares get paid millions. Their primary loyalty is to those millions.

So, in light of where their loyalty is, it’s OK if they know an unpleasant moment.

Tavares didn’t get brained with a battery, or physically threatened. His family wasn’t menaced. Nothing happened that went over the edge. He just got booed.

There used to be a saying: “The customer is always right.”

It’s mostly ignored today, but it still applies. If you bought a ticket, you can boo.

Of course, just because you can doesn’t mean you should, or that you’re right to do so.

It was wrong that Penguins fans jeered Jaromir Jagr when he returned. Jagr left behind two Stanley Cups when he departed. Tavares left behind bupkus.

But those athletes have your money in their pockets. Do as you like, within reason.

The reaction of the hockey media was predictable. The fans on Long Island were said to have humiliated themselves. Poor, pitiful John Tavares. How could they?

But the media has zero perspective because they don’t pay to get in.

Islanders tickets are cheap, because the team usually stinks and is behind the Rangers in New York City’s hockey pecking order. You get nosebleed tickets for $15 each.

But, even at that price, imagine you’re a season-ticket holder (plus one), and gave Tavares $30 a night 41 times per season for nine seasons, and then Tavares skips off to Toronto. See how you feel after that, especially when the Islanders are better without Tavares and “we don’t need him!” (And what if you bought more expensive tickets?)

Ex-NHLer Sean Avery has always been a circus act, embarrassing himself and hockey constantly. He vilified the Islanders fans in obscene fashion. How does a guy who referred to ex-girlfriends dating other players in crude fashion have the guts to declare himself an arbiter of taste? Who did Avery ever beat?

I doubt he pays to get in, either.

Athletes come and go. Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky retired, and the NHL didn’t fold. Tavares isn’t a pimple on their backsides. There’s no loyalty. Not on the teams’ part, not on the players’ part. Not toward each other, and certainly not toward the fans. The fans are a means to an end, nothing more.

Unless you’re stupid, all that is easily understood. And once that’s understood, what happened Thursday on Long Island is also easily understood.

Tavares’ bank account more than enables him to get over the hurt.

Chances are Tavares doesn’t care at all, anyway.

Tavares got booed lustily during his tribute video. That’s cool. How many athletes can say that?

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