You make your return to Long Island for the first time as a visitor and the enemy on Thursday night after nine unsuccessful seasons with the Islanders, even though this does not mean much to you as much as it does with the Islanders fans.
This is more about the Islanders fans than you. This is about closure for us. In a way, we can’t wait until this game is over, so we can truly move on. We just want to say our good-byes by booing you and heckling you the entire night.
For sure, this is not going to be a celebration of your Islanders career, so don’t expect a video tribute of you by the Islanders. I am sure you are not interested in one anyway.
Yes, you put good numbers, but as Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello astutely pointed out that you had great individual success on the ice when he offered a press release statement on your departure. He clearly did not mention that your individual success reflected team’s success.
With one playoff series win in three playoff tries and so many losing seasons, Lamoriello has a point. That’s why we really don’t miss you. Here’s a case in point: The Islanders are tied with the Washington Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division WITHOUT you. This speaks volumes about you right there.
Your only Islanders moment was scoring the game-winning double overtime along with tying the game in regulation against the feisty Florida Panthers in Game 7 of the first round on April 24, 2016. It was the biggest moment of your unsuccessful hockey career.
Yes, this is nothing to sneeze at. You were the reason the Islanders finally won a playoff series for the first time since 1993. Not even your harshest critic can take that moment away from you.
But therein lies the rub: If this was your lone big moment, how good are you really? It’s hard to take you seriously as a great player when you have not led the Islanders to many playoff appearances. It’s hard to think of you as a great Islander when you never won a championship here the way Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies, John Tonelli, Bob Nystrom and Butch Goring did. You were not even a popular athlete in this rich sports town for a reason.
No one remembers you fondly here if you never won a championship here. You are judged in New York by winning a championship, and you admitted yourself you could not get it done here by latching on with your childhood team in the Maple Leafs. How bad were you in the postseason? Prior to that playoff series against the Panthers, you score five playoff goals in 13 games. This is not stuff that legends are made of.
The best part of you leaving is that your jersey will never be retired in the rafters ever at the new Islanders home arena in Belmont. This is why I wanted you gone in the first place. Your jersey should not be retired because you won nothing here. You were just a great player on a terrible team like Ziggy Palffy.
We haven’t kept up on how you have done with the Maple Leafs. We really don’t care, either.
Even if you do well and win the Stanley Cup with the Leafs, it will be meaningless because you took the easy way out by joining Auston Matthews and William Nylander the way Kevin Durant took the easy way out of winning a championship by riding on the coattails of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Oh, and we won’t care if you win the Stanley Cup with the Maple Leafs. We will be too busy watching the Mets and Yankees to care what you do in the playoffs.
Sure, we are going to laugh at you if you and the Maple Leafs flame out in the playoffs. It’s what you call schadenfreude, Johnny. We can’t help ourselves. There’s nothing like laughing at someone’s misfortune. That’s the way it works in sports.
You couldn’t care less about coming home. It’s understandable, and we know it’s genuine. This is what happens when you won nothing here. Why sweat the small stuff, eh?
We are going to move on after tonight. Your return will bring closure to all of us. It is not meaningful for you, but it’s meaningful for us. The same fans that rooted for you and enabled your failure during your forgettable time with the Islanders. This game is for us more than anything. We want this game more than you do.
We have other things to worry about like seeing our team keeping pace with the Capitals for the division. This season has been so special without you, and it would be a great season just seeing the Islanders in the playoffs without you.
You clearly haven’t kept tabs on how the Islanders are doing this year. You couldn’t care less. You have moved on. You would love to be forgotten altogether. Like us, you don’t want to be known as a player that played for the Islanders.
You have counted the days until you stopped serving time as an Islander since the day you were drafted on June 26, 2009. Who could not forget how sad you were when the Islanders announced they would draft you on the night of the draft? That’s when I knew you were biding your time before you made a decision to leave this past summer.
I know I have waited for the day for you to leave, and it was a great day when you left.
You don’t miss us, and we don’t miss you.
Like us, I am sure you want this day to be over.
Try to enjoy your homecoming whether you like it or not.