Friday, September 14, 2007

Eric Cairns retires...and now he's an Islander again

I’d heard a few days ago about Eric Cairns joining us in Moncton for an NYI Alumni breakfast sponsored by the good folks here. What I didn’t realize was that it was going to be so much more than that.

Cairnsy has officially retired as a player and this week he’s where he belongs – as an Islander.

Eric didn’t just meet the team in Moncton for a one-shot deal. No, he means too much to the fans and people of this franchise. Eric was on the charter plane that left Thursday afternoon from Farmingdale to New Brunswick. Turns out Garth Snow gave him a call recently and told Cairns he may be retired as a player, but he’s most definitely not a man without a team. Garth invited Cairns to become an Islander again and be part of training camp.

“I’m here to do whatever the team needs,” Eric said today during the first scrimmage of camp. “I’ll do the alumni events, talk to the young players, hang with the scouts, whatever I can do. I appreciate what Garth and the Islanders did. I loved it on Long Island and it’s so nice to be back.”

Nobody deserves this more than Cairns, and not just because he cleaned the Coliseum ice with Shayne Corson five years ago. Cairns’ presence in the Islanders' lineup made them a better team in so many ways. Look it up: when the Islanders picked the big defenseman/enforcer off the waiver wire from the Rangers, Long Island’s team gained from it, the city’s team missed him big-time.

His passion sometimes made him a misunderstood character. I know I had my moments with him, or should I say – since he’s got a half-foot and 40 pounds of muscle on me – he had his moments with me.

There was the day Steve Webb returned to the Coliseum in the uniform of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the FSN TV crew filmed a brief shot of Cairns and his best NHL buddy chatting in the hallway after the morning skate. Cairnsy did not like that and made it clear in his own way to me, my staffers, the cameraman and everyone on the TV crew. FSN thought they had a nice visual of two Islanders favorites reuniting. But for Eric, it broke the code. He was talking to a friend, it was private, and the hockey world didn’t need to see two very tough guys from opposing teams acting all nice to each other.

Fair enough. Like any issues with Cairns, time and a few heart-to-heart conversations would heal them. But that’s what made Cairns the player who made the jump – some might say against all odds, but not him – from the ECHL to the AHL to the Rangers and Islanders. I know so many fans with the picture of Cairns holding up the No. 1 index finger as he was escorted by the referees off the ice after pummeling Corson at the Coliseum. Of course, the paranoid people of Toronto wanted to believe Cairns was showing up the Leafs. Cairns would never do that. The morning after that playoff game he tried to explain what he was doing and I told him he didn’t owe an explanation to anyone.

If you know Eric Cairns as a teammate or a friend, you know that gesture was toward the fans for being No 1 in his oversized heart. Garth Snow recognized this and made a phone call that won’t make big news, but means a lot to so many people. I told Garth that it’s stuff like this that might give people the wrong impression our GM is actually a decent guy.

When Eric got on the charter yesterday and I realized this was more than just the cameo appearance of a former player, I got a little choked up. Good for him. Better for us.

Eric Cairns is an Islander.

No comments: