Leafs’ John Tavares on return to New York: I hope it’s positive

Voice of the Maple Leafs Joe Bowen discusses a couple of stories at camp he's really excited to see unfold, including the back-up goaltender battle, which he feels Garret Sparks is ready to steal.

New Toronto Maple Leafs centre John Tavares is in lookahead mode right now. He signed with his hometown team this summer, leaving the organization where he spent his entire nine-year NHL career. And, in addition to adjusting to life in a new city, he’s also a newlywed.

But as the 2018-19 campaign progresses, Tavares knows there will come a time when he will be thrust into the past.

On Feb. 28 at Barclays Center, and again on April 1 at the renovated Nassau Coliseum, Tavares and the Leafs will visit the New York Islanders. The 27-year-old is hoping the reaction he receives from his old fan base is positive.

“I wish I was able to do a better job and lead the team to more success,” Tavares told NBC Sports’s Pro Hockey Talk during the NHL Player Media Tour on Friday. “It’s something I’ll always have to look back on and wish I could have done more and did a better job leading the team. But we’ll see what happens.

“I hope it’s positive because I know the positive impact they all made on me.”

Tavares was selected first overall by the Islanders in the 2009 NHL Draft. He went on to collect 621 points in 669 regular-season games for the franchise, becoming captain and leading it to three playoff appearances. When the Mississauga, Ont., native signed with the Leafs on July 1, Islanders fans were distraught, with some even burning his jersey.

“I didn’t think everyone was going to love [the decision to leave],” Tavares said Friday. “At the end of the day I did what I felt was best for myself and what I thought was right for me.”

He penned his thoughts at length in a Players’ Tribune piece to Islanders faithful in early July, and reiterated to NBC the importance his former city played in his life.

“I wouldn’t be who I am now without that and how much I appreciated the support I got from the community and the Islander fan base and how well the organization treated me and how much fun I had there over the years.”

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