CHICAGO -- John Tavares has no idea what kind of greeting he will receive from New York Islanders fans when he plays for the first time in a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Feb. 28.
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"I hope the reception is positive from the fans," Tavares said during the NHL Player Media Tour on Friday. "They all had a positive impact on me. I knew not everyone would love my choice but I had to make the decision that was best for me."
The free agent signed a seven-year, $77 million contract with the Maple Leafs on July 1, causing emotions to swell among the Islanders fan base. A handful burned their No. 91 Tavares jerseys in protest.
Tavares said the emotional reaction underscores the passion they have.
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"The Islanders and that community played a significant role in turning me into the man I am today," Tavares said. "I had a lot of fun there and was treated very well over the years and will always appreciate that support. I wish we would have had more success and will always ask myself what I could have done to bring more to that franchise."
Tavares, who turns 28 on Sept. 20, played nine seasons with the Islanders. He scored 621 points (272 goals, 349 assists) in 669 games and had 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 24 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
"It was a very difficult decision because the place I chose to leave, just what it means to me," he said. "How much I enjoyed and embraced playing for the Islanders and that community and the fan base there, and how much I appreciated that. It was a very difficult and heavy decision and one I live with.
"I look forward to my new chapter."
Toronto will visit the Islanders on two occasions this season: in Brooklyn Feb. 28 and at a renovated Nassau Coliseum on April 1.