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Beating the Reputation

by Travis Betts / New York Islanders
John Tavares signed a contract extension last September to remain an Islander through at least 2018 (Getty Images)

Before John Tavares signed a six-year contract extension last summer to remain with the Islanders through the 2017-18 season, a segment of the hockey community speculated that the young star would leave Long Island for what they thought were greener pastures at his earliest opportunity. But Tavares, who has spent the entirety of his young career with the Islanders after being selected first overall in the 2009 NHL Draft, made a commitment to the team and to the fans on Long Island.

“I’m thrilled to show the organization and loyal Islanders fans that I want nothing more than to win on Long Island,” Tavares said upon signing the new deal. “Charles (Wang) and Garth (Snow) have both shown a tremendous amount of loyalty towards me, and I look forward to honoring this long-term commitment. This is an exciting team to be a part of right now. We have a group that I feel will contend every year for a championship and I’m privileged to be a part of the Islanders future.”

In the last year, Islanders forwards Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen have also signed long-term deals to stay with the organization that drafted them. They joined Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner, who were drafted elsewhere but promptly inked long-term extensions after experiencing life on the Island.

For those fortunate enough to play on Long Island, there is no question as to the commitment between team management, the fans and the players. It’s also no secret that Long Island itself, with its beautiful beaches, gorgeous golf courses, superb school systems and proximity to New York City, is a great place to call home.

But those same attractions remain a secret kept from most visiting players. The majority of teams stay at the Marriott Hotel, just across the parking lot from 40-year-old Nassau Coliseum, the oldest building in the National Hockey League, and see little more than the walk to the arena and the visitors’ dressing room.

Islanders Assistant Coach and Senior Advisor to the General Manager Doug Weight, who came to the club as a player in 2008 after 18 NHL seasons with other teams, was admittedly naïve about the area he now calls home.

“You’d be surprised how little I knew,” Weight said. “When I played with the Rangers, I was just outside the city and most of my affairs were in the city. I knew what everyone else knew. I stayed in the hotel and I went and played the game, and generally we were right out after the game, so I didn’t know much about the Island.”

Not long after signing with the Islanders that summer, Weight, along with his wife and three kids, fell in love with the area.

“Shortly after coming here, I realized that there was a lot more to the Island than just the middle of it,” Weight said. “Where we live on the north shore, there are so many family-owned businesses and restaurants. Everything you need to do, you can do within your little one or two towns that you live near. I love the feel of the north shore. It’s just a great place. And to have the city of New York, Manhattan, which I love going into, just 35 minutes away – it’s pretty exceptional.”

I think the first key to recruiting any player is success or the thought of a team having success. The Islanders have a nice young group of players and they look like they’re building toward something good there. - Former Islanders defenseman Steve Staios

Former Islanders defenseman Steve Staios, who now works in the Toronto Maple Leafs front office, played 15 years in the NHL before signing a one-year deal with the Islanders last summer. He also had a sheltered view of the area from his experience as a visiting player.

“When you’re on a visiting team, you stay at the Marriott Hotel and you stare down at the old Nassau Coliseum,” Staios said. “That’s your initial impression when you get there.”

But Staios, who played with five NHL teams prior to joining the Islanders, says that the area is unique in comparison to his other stops in the league.

“As you get to know the area and find your way around, you realize that it’s a beautiful place,” Staios said. “The beaches are close by. You don’t get much of a chance to go during the season, but it’s unique with all the beautiful areas and great schools and golf courses. Those are some of the things that you don’t get a chance to see as a visiting player.”

Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who saw his share of beaches on the west coast in 10 seasons with the San Jose Sharks, played half a season with the Islanders in 2011-12 before signing a contract extension to stay for another year. Nabokov said that the biggest factors for him wanting to remain on Long Island were his family’s love of the area and the bright future of the team.

“The family was enjoying their time here,” Nabokov said. “The kids liked it, so it was a pretty easy decision. When I signed the extension, I did so because the Islanders organization is headed in the right direction and I feel like I can help.”

For Nabokov, moving his family 3,000 miles from San Jose was a big step, and he had to make sure it was the right decision for everyone.

“When you have kids, the most important question is always, ‘How are the schools there and what can the kids do around the area,” Nabokov said. “It’s been great. The schools have been great. We’ve driven to New York and enjoyed ourselves out there.”

Doug Weight played for the Islanders from 2008-2011 before taking his current post as Assistant Coach and Senior Advisor to the General Manager (Getty Images)

With the free agent signing period open, Garth Snow and others in the Islanders front office have reached out to numerous players, encouraging them to sign with the club. Staios, who was on the receiving end of those calls last summer, said his primary reason for signing was the direction the organization was moving.

“I think the first key to recruiting any player is success or the thought of a team having success,” Staios said. “The Islanders have a nice young group of players and they look like they’re building toward something good there, so I think that will help them recruit.”

As Weight can attest, when he and Snow make calls, they aren’t just talking up the location, they’re pitching the whole package – most importantly, the team on the ice.

“First and foremost, you’re selling the team,” Weight said. “But certainly there are intangibles. I say exactly what I’ve learned. The schools are unbelievable here. I just moved my family here. We love everything about the city, but we love everything about the Island.”

Islanders management has already signed three players who have never played on the Island – Brad Boyes, Matt Carkner and Eric Boulton – since July 1. In time, those players will get a chance to discover firsthand what Weight, Nabokov and Staios already know about Long Island.

“I kind of just go with the theory that it sells itself,” Weight said. “But I had that conversation about how great this place really is with all three players who signed and hopefully they’ll feel as strongly as I do about it when they get here.”

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