The third star: Michael Grabner – Before signing with the Coyotes, the speedy winger used his Twitter account to keep fans up to date on how negotiations were going.
Three Stars of Comedy
The second star: The Kings' mascot – Bailey had some thoughts on the John Tavares sweepstakes, especially once it seemed to be down to Toronto and San Jose.
The first star: Matching outfits – It was kind of a theme this week. First up, we had a tag-team of current stars and retired legends taking to the tennis court while looking adorable.
But with all due respect to Teemu and friends, they can't match up to P.K. Subban and Lindsey Vonn.I can't unsee that, and now neither can you.
This week’s debate: John Tavares shocked the hockey world this week by signing with the Maple Leafs, and Islanders fans aren't happy about it. Some are burning their jerseys, some are screaming into their webcams, and many are taking to their social media feeds and local sports call-in shows to vent their anger. Tavares is a traitor. He strung the team along, then ambushed them. He knew he was going to Toronto all along. And now, as far as at least some fans are concerned, he's dead to them.Do Islanders fans need to calm down about John Tavares leaving?In favor: They absolutely do. Come on—setting your jersey on fire because a player exercised his contractual right to play somewhere else? Grown men near tears over a sports transaction? This is getting ridiculous.Opposed: I agree. It is ridiculous.In favor: Besides, it's not like Tavares did anything wrong. He didn't owe the Islanders or their fans anything.Opposed: This is also true.In favor: The man spent nine years with the Islanders, including the last five playing on a ridiculously undervalued contract. That deal gave the team all sorts of extra cap room to surround him with a decent supporting cast, but they never did. Instead, they stuck with the same GM for every season Tavares was there, even as they won just one single playoff round in almost a decade. They went into this year without fixing their goaltending or their blueline, and they missed the playoffs by 17 points. Now they're surprised that their star player wanted to be somewhere else? Give me a break.
Debating the Issues
Opposed: Yep, agreed again. Tavares had every right to consider his options, and his decision to head to Toronto was completely reasonable.In favor: This isn't really much of a debate, is it? I mean, you're just agreeing with everything I say.Opposed: Well, I don't really have much choice. Everything you're saying is so self-evidently true that it borders on the obvious. There's no argument to be made here.In favor: Ah, OK, so I guess we can wrap this up.Opposed: Except for one thing—you're not addressing the question we were asked.In favor: I didn't?Opposed: No. We weren't asked whether Islanders fans were being unreasonable. We were asked whether they should behave differently.In favor: That's…. that's the same thing.Opposed: No it isn't. You're overlooking the right answer: That Islanders fans are being completely irrational, and that that's also exactly how they should be acting.In favor: What? No. People shouldn't act unreasonably. How can you defend that?Opposed: Simple—because people being unreasonable and irrational when it comes to pro sports is the only reason pro sports exists. We're supposed to be stupid about this stuff. We're supposed to be way too invested. We're supposed to care way too deeply.In favor: We are?Opposed: Of course we are. If we don't act that way, the whole system collapses. No truly rational person would care about any of this. It's a bunch of strangers playing a game while wearing a shirt that has our town's name on it. Why do any of us care about that?
In favor: Well, because we're sports fans. It's what we do.Opposed: Exactly! And that's great—being a sports fan is great. And also sometimes terrible. And all the things in between. Burning a jersey because a player left doesn't make any sense. But neither does taking a day off work to watch a parade when your team wins. You can't encourage people to go crazy for one end of the spectrum but lecture them about how it's only a game when they get to other end.In favor: But some of this stuff is just so over-the-top…Opposed: Obviously there will always be idiots who take it too far. If you're damaging property or making threats or hurting yourself then yes, you've gone off the deep end and somebody needs to come collect you and tuck you into bed. But most of this stuff isn't that. It's just fans who actually care, reacting the way fans should be allowed to. Sports fans being ridiculous about sports is the whole reason that the NHL is a billion-dollar business. It's the whole reason John Tavares gets to sign a $77-million contract. And it's the reason some people get to make their living writing made-up dialogues about hockey. You can't have all of that, then complain about the fan psyche that makes it all possible.In favor: So it's stupid, irrational, and silly…Opposed: Yes.In favor: … and also normal sports fan behavior that we shouldn't object to.Opposed: Exactly.In favor: So basically what you're saying is that we're all idiots.
Opposed: Essentially, yeah. And we shouldn't want it any other way.The final verdict: As long as everyone is staying safe, we should let Islanders fans react to the Tavares news however they damn well want without the rest of us scolding them for it.
So it turns out John Tavares really was a Maple Leafs fan growing up; he even had a sweet bedroom setup. That got me to wondering what the Leafs looked like when Tavares entered the world back in September 1990.The answer: They were terrible. Seriously, if he was exposed to the Maple Leafs in any way as an infant, it's a borderline miracle he grew up to like hockey at all.When baby Tavares arrived on September 20, 1990, the Maple Leafs were in the middle of training camp. There was some optimism around the team, since they were coming off their first .500 season in over a decade. But that quickly evaporated with a horrible start, one that saw them go winless through their first seven games. By the end of October, shortly after baby John turned one month old, the Leafs were 1-9-1, had fired their coach, and were about to trade away half the roster. Toronto Newspapers were dropping Public Enemy references, with a headline reading "1-9-1 is a joke." Oh, also they didn't have their own first-round pick. It was one of the worst times in the modern era to be a Leafs fan, and that's really saying something.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
So today, let's celebrate the Tavares signing by bestowing obscure player honors on the first player to win a game in his lifetime. You could call him the 1 in 1-9-1. goaltender Peter Ing.Ing was Toronto's third-round pick in the 1988 draft; the next player picked was named John Van Kessel, which I love because it sounds like the love child of a movie action hero and a pudgy scoring winger. Ing appeared in three games for the Leafs during the 1989-90 season, getting shelled for 18 goals, but won the starter's job in time for that disastrous 1990-91 season, beating out Jeff Reese and Allan Bester.How did a 21-year-old starter fare on a terrible team? About as well as you might expect; Ing led the league in losses while compiling a 3.84 goals against and an .883 save percentage. That latter number wasn't actually terrible for the era, and ranked Ing ahead of guys like Mike Vernon, Kirk McLean, and Sean Burke. But the Leafs were a tire fire, and it wasn't unusual to see Ing pelted with 40 shots in a game. That included October 20, 1990, when Ing made 39 saves in a 6-2 win over the Blackhawks to secure the first Leafs win of the Tavares Generation.That season brought one other Ing highlight. On January 5, 1991, he faced down Wayne Gretzky on a penalty shot on a Saturday night at Maple Leaf Gardens. It was Gretzky's first penalty shot in seven years, and the only one he'd ever take as a King. And somehow, Ing made the stop. It may have been the most exciting moment of the Leafs' season.
That 1990-91 season would be Ing's only one as full-time starter. On September 19, 1991—the day before baby Tavares would celebrate his first birthday—Ing was part of the package going from the Leafs to the Oilers in the Grant Fuhr trade that marked the start of the Cliff Fletcher era in Toronto. While we didn't quite know it at the time, the rebirth of the Maple Leafs had begun.Ing spent most of the next two seasons in the minors, got dealt to the Red Wings for a late pick in 1993, and played his final three NHL games for Detroit during the 1993-94 season. He'd spend two more years in the IHL before hanging up his pads in 1996 at the age of 27. After his playing days were done, Ing apparently worked at casinos in Las Vegas before starting his own hockey equipment company with Bryce Salvador.Also, he's on Twitter:
The issue: Your team signed a free agent, and everyone is laughing at them because they overpaid. The outrage: But that's the market for a player like this, so nobody should criticize the signing. Is it justified: No. Stop saying stuff like this every year.It's true that "the market" exists, and it does set prices for free agents. It's a pretty simple concept: If somebody somewhere is willing to pay a certain price, then that's that player's market value. In terms of what a player can ask for, you're worth whatever somebody says you're worth.But here's the problem: The market on July 1 is very often completely insane. It's like The Purge, except instead of citizens being murdered, it's salary caps. Very little of what happens on that day, and for most of the rest of the week, makes any sense in the bigger picture, because "the market" will be wrong about most of the players' actual value.
Outrage of the Week
Does that mean that every contract signed when free agency opens will be a bad one? Not necessarily. Some players take a discount to find the right fit. Some are more concerned with other factors. Some had magical bed sheets when they were a kid. Many others aren't good enough to conjure up much of a bidding war. And even if a team has to overpay, sometimes a bad gamble still works out in the end.More importantly, sometimes a team might be justified in overpaying to get one specific piece. That's especially true if that team is a contender with a need in a certain area. If adding a certain player is that step in assembling a Stanley Cup roster, then sure, pay a little more to make sure it happens and sort the rest out later.But don't justify it by pointing at "the market," because the market doesn't know what it's doing. Hopefully, your favorite team's GM does. And if that means he unplugs his phone for a few days, there's a good chance you're dealing with a smart guy.
Did we mention that John Tavares is a Maple Leaf? Because he is. John Tavares signed with the Maple Leafs. It was quite the ride.In the aftermath, a Toronto TV station dug up an old clip of a 14-year-old Tavares being named the local athlete of the week.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
- This is a clip from back in 2004 or 2005, and it's one of the first times a young Tavares got some media coverage. Now that he's signed with the Maple Leafs, there's a chance he may get a little bit more, but we'll see.
- We start with a reference to an "amazing athlete" named John Tavares. But it's not John Tavares, the hockey player. It's John Tavares the lacrosse star, who's also the hockey player's uncle. And he really was a star—one of the biggest in pro lacrosse history. To this day, John Tavares is the National Lacrosse League's all-time leading scorer, having rewritten the record book as a member of the Buffalo Bandits.
- Hey, Uncle John, too bad in all those years in Buffalo you never thought to pick up a nice Sabres bed set for your nephew.
- We throw to our reporter, who's rocking a very strong turtle neck/leather jacket combo. He bravely works through his introduction, even though this clip was apparently shot back before working microphones were invented.
- And there's teenaged Tavares, decked out in a blue-and-white maple leaf. It's a good look for him.
- We cut to Tavares being interviewed, and to nobody's surprise, he looks and sounds pretty much exactly the same as he does now. Sure, he's got longer hair and is doing that teenager thing where he wears a toque and looks bored at all times. But he's the same guy, because as we covered last week, John Tavares is a host.
- Seriously, can one of the analytics guys get back to me on the typical aging curve for an elite forward who is also a robot? I feel like it's good. I just hope his warranty hasn't expired.
- Tavares explains how lacrosse has helped him in hockey. That crossover isn't actually all that unusual—there have been a ton of NHL stars who also played lacrosse at a high level, including Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, and Adam Oates.
- Tavares is already wearing his trademark No. 91 in this clip. For those paying attention, it may seem kind of weird that Tavares wears No. 91 when he was born in 1990 and not 1991. As it turns out, he just liked the number nine and wore that or nineteen for most of his younger days, then switched over to 91 after an older teammate wouldn't give up 19 one year. He stuck with it ever since.
- Well, almost ever since. Fun fact: Tavares couldn't wear No. 91 in junior because some other jerk already had it.
- We cut to longtime Marlies coach James Naylor, who explains that the kid is pretty good. Then comes a clip of Tavares being knocked over in the crease by a defenseman, at which point I build a time machine, put on a No. 3 Marlies jersey, and travel back in time and cross-check that dude in the ribs.
- We're back to the Tavares interview, and we learn that he enjoys spending a lot of time in the basement. Huh, the Islanders really were a perfect fit.
- We close with Tavares surrounded by teammates as an announcer declares him the athlete of the week. This is the cue for everyone to cheer and mug for the camera, and you know what that means: It's time for yet another round of "Can John Tavares approximate human emotions?" The answer… uh… well, he tries.
- I mean, that's kind of a smile, right? Remember, the AI industry was still relatively new back in 2004. I feel like this was a good start. And he's probably come a long way at expressing happiness since then, right?
- That's… progress? I think it's progress.
- Anyway, that's it. Join us next week as this column continues to slowly morph into a John Tavares biography web site.