A handful of veterans reacted emphatically when asked Tuesday about a tweet from retired Islander Rob Schremp that appeared to question his former captain’s work ethic and leadership, suggesting he was selfish.
“It’s silly to me,” said defenceman Thomas Hickey, who played six seasons alongside Tavares.
“I’ve told this story before. The year John lost the scoring title by one point (to Jamie Benn in 2014-15), in a meaningless play about halfway through the year I shot it and it looked like Johnny tipped it. He got credit for it. After the game he said, ‘I’m going to change that, I didn’t touch it — that was your point.’
“He ended up losing the scoring title by one point, and my point totals don’t really matter.
“He’s a good teammate. For anyone to say he’s selfish, they’re just misguided. Maybe they’re looking for a headline.”
Schremp made plenty of them on the weekend when he responded to a tweet from NBC about the Islanders’ dramatically improved record without Tavares.
The ultimate “ I did my job “ kind of superstar. He wins when he goes to play for his country as they are loaded with players mostly equal or better. Other than that, he just collects HIS points and HIS awards.
— Rob Schremp (@RobSchremp) February 16, 2019
“The ultimate ‘I did my job’ kind of superstar,” read the tweet from Tavares’ teammate from 2009 to 2011.
“He wins when he goes to play for his country as they are loaded with players mostly equal or better. Other than that, he just collects HIS points and HIS awards.”
The rare criticism aimed at No. 91 caused a firestorm on social media, where Schremp was vilified.
Retiring this year following a 114-game NHL career that failed to live up to his first-round billing, the 32-year-old Schremp tried clarifying his thoughts on Sportsnet 590 Monday, to no avail. What was clear is he had no idea his tweet would get such traction or that he was essentially the only one on record questioning Tavares’ character.
It wasn’t popular.
“He was by no means a bad leader or a bad teammate — I think he was a good captain, led by example, played hard every night and really cared about the organization and the team,” said Matt Martin, whose club is in Calgary to play the Flames Wednesday night.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion — that’s just mine, and I think it’s similar throughout this dressing room.
“He was never negative in any way. He just came and worked hard.”
Martin’s first go-round as an Islander coincided with the two years Schremp and Tavares were teammates and said he doesn’t recall there being a personality clash between the two.
“He’s one of the best players in the league for a reason,” said Martin.
“He was the captain here for a long time for a reason. He’s already got a letter in Toronto for a reason. There’s no reason to attack his character in any way. He made a decision. It was his life choice and we still consider him a friend. The general consensus was he was totally in his rights to move on.”
Islanders fans hated Tavares’ July 1 decision to end his nine years on Long Island by signing with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. They will get a chance to share their thoughts with the 28-year-old centre a week from Thursday when he returns to play at Nassau Coliseum for the first time as the opposition.
“I think everybody is anticipating the game — definitely one that’s been circled on the calendar — time will tell in terms of the reception that he’ll get,” said Andrew Ladd.
“From my standpoint he did a lot of good things there. He was involved in the community and was a great teammate. As a professional, he was one of the best I’ve ever seen.
“The way he takes care of himself and all that — he wanted to be the best. That’s his goal. Everything he did was for the group. Nothing but good things from me as a teammate. He’s got a good rep in this room.”
Several players admitted there were players on the roster who were saddened or upset by Tavares’ departure last summer, but as players they understood he’d earned that right.
All of them were aware of Schremp’s tweet, but none of them took it seriously.
“John’s one of the hardest working players I ever played with,” said Jordan Eberle, who only spent one season alongside Tavares on the Island.
“If the team isn’t having success and he is, it’s not his fault. I’ve never seen him be selfish. (The tweet) was a bit surprising. I was shocked, because I know John and played with him and I think the majority of guys who played with him will say the same thing.”