As he strode across the visitor's locker room at Air Canada Centre, New York Islanders forward John Tavares found a wrapped package in his stall with his name on it. He opened the brown paper and read the note inside. He flashed a wry smile, looked the gift over once quickly then stuffed it in his bag. The reserved star would have forgotten all about it if the throng of Canadian reporters following him from the second he arrived at the airport didn't immediately start firing questions at him. What's in the box? It was a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey with Tavares' name and the number "1" on the back. And the giver: none other than former Leafs' GM Brian Burke. "Caught me a little by surprise but it's a great gift and I appreciate it. I'll thank Mr. Burke personally," said Tavares, who was gracious and respectful. "I'm not sure why he gave it to me, but I guess I'll keep it. I grew up a Leafs fans, so, um, it's kinda cool." The player and the executive are inextricably linked thanks to Burke's hubris leading up to the 2009 NHL entry draft. Holding the seventh selection that year, Burke was open in his desire to acquire the top pick specifically to bring Tavares to his hometown team. When the Islanders won the draft lottery and made it clear they were holding on to the first pick, Burke tried to make a make a play for Tampa Bay's second overall slot in the hopes of getting closer to Tavares. In the end, Tavares went first to Long Island, defenseman Victor Hedman went second to the Lightning and the Leafs took forward Nazem Kadri seventh overall. Tavares has done everything the Islanders have asked of him and more. He's their most consistent offensive player, a leader in the locker room and a budding media presence. He signed a six-year extension with the Islanders in 2011, defying predictions that he would bolt the struggling club for a team people actually care about at his first opportunity. Burke was fired as general manager just prior to this season resuming after the lockout. Although he kept his title of team president, he has not been seen around the Leafs' offices since his release and is thought to be stalking the Yukon fighting bears.
Brian Burke Leaves Parting Gift for John Tavares
Lighthouse Hockey | Jan 24