Dear Isles’ Fans:
Welcome to the rescue dinghy. Really it’s astounding what securing a no. 1 overall draft pick can do to assuage your agony. And not just any no.1 overall but a special player, a buzz youngster, like the one you secured Friday night in Montreal in John Tavares.
It’s not that today you’ve necessarily forgotten all that has ailed your team in recent years, which has been voluminous and grotesque. Additionally, we don’t have a crystal ball, and so we don’t yet know what John Tavares ultimately is going to do for your beleaguered franchise, but we do know that he’s been the prospect apple of everybody’s eye ever since he was the youngest player ever drafted into the Ontario Hockey League in 2005. Only Bobby Orr entered the OHL at a younger age. Talk about good company. Now Tavares is yours. Congratulations. This is a time for dreaming large.
This isn’t a time for fretting over how successful Tavares will or won’t be as an NHL rookie in 2009-10. Instead, spend the rest of this summer as we in Washington did in the summer of 2004: believing, rightly it turns out, that the black storm clouds of so many torture years past were finally beginning to part, thanks to the fortuitous arrival of a single ping pong ball. When fans of division rival teams this summer ridicule you for your team’s recent standings finishes, nod and smile and keep silent, and take it, knowing that they’re getting in final parting shots. John Tavares is going to be making an impact in your team’s sweater long after Chris Pronger had departed Philadelphia.
I blog today to impart to you this undeniable truth: the worst is behind you. This doesn’t mean that next season is going to be hunky-dorey for you. In fact, odds are, you’re in for another year of struggle and most often winter evenings of discouraging defeat. That’s part of the rebuilding bargain. It’s important to know that going in. But the thinking here is that within the setbacks you’ll see what we in D.C. did five years ago — the jaw-dropping promise of better days to come, and even a handful of victorious evenings no conventional wisdom forecasted. Most often those will be led by your new wunderkid.
More caution: while Friday night was an evening of appropriate reverie for you, at this moment we need to be frank about your standing: it isn’t what it what it should be. We don’t yet know that your team’s scouts can do what Washington’s have over the past five years: supplement a franchise-altering prodigy with much-needed reinforcements all about the lineup, with savvy and unlikely impact talent acquisition in portions of the draft that don’t typically deliver it.
Additionally, the Capitals had a distinct advantage over your Islanders in terms of when their savior arrived here, as Washington’s roster tear-down had already been undertaken by management. Still, it can’t be overstated what Friday night especially and this weekend more generally represented for your franchise. Like millions of others, I saw the TSN television cameras pan in on your rink Friday night as upwards of 10,000 in white, orange and blue frenzy-ushered in a new era.
Allow me to share with you a modest anecdote applicable I think to your situation in the summer of 2009. In September 2005 the Washington Capitals hosted a meet-n-greet for season ticket holders with Capitals’ players poised to begin training camp. This took place at a shopping mall sports bar in Arlington, Va., named Bailey’s. The Caps then were not yet moved into their new training and practice facility across the street from the bar, atop a parking garage, but they wanted loyal ticket purchasers to meet up close and personal the icon they believed would lead them to prosperity, at their future home. I was in Bailey’s that night, and I watched some 25 Capitals’ players file through the bar to a private reception in the back of the bar with the season ticket holders. I remember thinking then that though the immediate future for the Caps was certifiably cluttered with losses, in that offseason moment I was witnessing the marching of a new guard of puck in my hometown. You on Long Island will almost certainly have a comparable gathering for loyal supporters this summer. Savor it.
Turns out, I was spot on in my September 2005 thinking. It was a fairly empty rink the Caps played in during that 2005-06 season, but just two seasons later our guys were walking out from their dressing room into a cauldron of red-clad euphoria acknowledged around the league as the most inhospitable of environments for visiting teams, anywhere in the league. I know you guys badly need a new rink on Long Island; I think John Tavares will help deliver it.
Lastly, please beat Pittsburgh.