Isles Country was devastated to see John Tavares decide to take his talents home and play for the Toronto Maple Leafs next season. And though fans may see only darkness ahead for the Islanders, NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire believes there to be light at the end of the tunnel.
After analyzing the process Tavares took during his interview period that led up to his ultimate decision, McGuire understood why Tavares decided to fulfill his "childhood dream" to play for the Leafs instead of the organization that drafted him first overall back in 2009.
"I'm not surprised," McGuire told SNY. "When you grow up in a Canadian city and you grew up dreaming about playing for that team whether it'd be Montreal or Vancouver or Toronto, that's a hard thing to not want to foresee or go through. So I understood that part of it after the fact."
What was McGuire's guess to where Tavares was going to land? He thought the dark horse in the San Jose Sharks would have been the way to go.
"I didn't know that he wanted to go home," he explained. "I thought that San Jose was the dark horse and the reason why I thought that is because the amount of friendships he had there, the way they were clearing out cap space, the fact they sign Logan Couture to an eight-year extension. He and John are very good friends. You know, that's kinda an under the radar place with a very good program."
In the end, the Islanders grand plan to keep Tavares on Long Island didn't pan out as expected. But they still have the pieces in place for life after Tavares. Lou Lamoriello is running the show as the new GM and president of hockey operations, and having known "Coach" as he likes to call him for awhile now, McGuire is certain Lamoriello was prepared in case Tavares decided to walk.
"I think the biggest thing is that he's always been a guy that's prepared for anything that could happen," McGuire said. "I've always known him to be like that, he's extremely prepared a lot like John Tavares."
Lamoriello has already made his mark with the Islanders. McGuire raved about his picks in the 2018 NHL Draft, specifically landing players like Oliver Wahlstrom, Noah Dobson, and Bode Wilde in the first and second rounds. Wahlstrom could be "the best scorer in the Draft" in his eyes, and Wilde was considered a steal in the second round.
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Adding that type of future talent as well as an accomplished head coach in Barry Trotz points to a team McGuire doesn't think anyone should underestimate.
"I think one thing I want to say to Islanders fans that I think is really important: They had an unbelievable first round and even a second round at the draft this year. Not a good one, they had a great one," McGuire said. "And I think people need to realize that. And Barry Trotz is an outstanding coach with a lot of experience. So when you put it all together -- I know there's a lot of doom and gloom right now -- I think the Islanders will be better than people think and I think their rebuild with a new manager will be very quick."
A talent like Tavares cannot simply be replaced, and McGuire realizes the hump the Islanders will have to get over in figuring out their system without him. However, the Islanders do have other pieces like Calder Trophy-winner Mathew Barzal as well as Anders Lee, who scored 40 goals last season.
McGuire won't commit to one of these two players taking over for Tavares entirely, but if there is anyone whose leadership can compare to the now former captain, the 27-year-old Lee fits the bill.
"I've known Anders Lee since he's played at Notre Dame even before that when he was at Edina High School [Minn.]. Anders Lee is one of the most mature men I've met before they came in the NHL. He's an amazing leader, he's a proud person. I think anybody that's ever played high level football like he did, especially at the quarterback position like he did, there's a lot of leadership there. ...I would never put anything past Anders Lee."
The Islanders may be missing a piece of their 2018-19 puzzle, but with Lamoriello in place, a new picture can be built from the ones that are still in house. But can success come immediately for this franchise that seems lost without their captain? McGuire says the postseason isn't entirely out of reach next season.
"I think that any team can compete for a playoff position including the Islanders. The key is going to be to stabilize the goaltending position and I think they'll add obviously on defense. But I think anybody, especially with a coach you have now in Barry Trotz, I think anybody can compete for a playoff spot. It's not a foreign concept to get into the eight hole. There will be one or two teams that will struggle, no question. But I don't expect the Islanders to be one of those teams."