The New York Islanders must play their cards right to keep John Tavares playing in New York for the long term.
Ever since John Tavares touched the ice at Nassau Coliseum for the first time as a member of the New York Islanders, fans knew that this kid (19-years-old at the time) would be a special player.
They were absolutely right.
Tavares has established himself as one of the National Hockey League’s premier superstars and doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. The former 2009 number one overall pick has recorded 269 points in 267 games over the past four years, tied for seventh in the NHL. He has been an All-Star each of those years and finished top three in the Hart Trophy (MVP) voting in 2012-2013 and 2014-2015.
With Tavares’ growth has also come the growth of the Islanders. The Isles have improved every year except once since he joined the team, the lone hiccup coming in the 2013-2014 season. The Isles even won a playoff series last year for the first time in 23 years over the Florida Panthers with, guess who, Tavares scoring the series clinching goal in Game 6 at the Barclays Center.
Things are clearly going in the right direction on the island with Tavares as their captain. The Islanders are actually sort of like the Rangers if you look at it. The Blueshirts only go as far as goalie Henrik Lundqvist goes. When the King collapsed in the first round last season, the rest of the squad went crashing down with him.
For the Isles, it’s the same exact situation with Tavares. When their captain played brilliantly, like he did in the first round against Florida, Jack Capuano’s squad was able to find a way to advance in the playoffs. When Tavares hit a road block (that being the Tampa Bay Lightning), the Isles were quickly disposed of in five games.
You might be sensing a common theme here: The two teams from New York each have a star that has carried each of their respective teams on their shoulders. Lundqvist has done it for over a decade now, and he was rewarded with a huge contract (7 years, $59.5 million to be exact). Tavares has done it for 7 years, and he will surely get paid, but will it be by the Islanders?
It’s a question that no one knows the answer to. This question haunts the dreams of Isles fans everywhere, putting the thought in their minds that their savior could walk when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in two years. The reality is that Tavares leaving is a very realistic possibility that would leave fans heartbroken.
It doesn’t mean he’s a lock to leave Long Island, though. The Ontario native has said that he wishes to be an Islander until he retires, but there is definitely uncertainty with this organization going forward that may impact Tavares’s decision. Every organization has flaws and that is just the reality of the business. However, Garth Snow and company have a more important issue that could steer JT away after the 2017-2018 season.
That issue is the home of the New York Islanders.
When the Isles made their long awaited move to Brooklyn last fall, fans weren’t happy to see them leave the Coliseum. After one year at the Barclays Center, fans figured out quickly that this place simply isn’t for hockey. The Isles have an opt-out in their contract with the Barclays Center and if the poor attendance and reviews continue, they could very well exercise it. Where they move is an entirely different discussion but the uncertainty of where Tavares would be calling home could lead him to leave.
Then there is the aspect of whether they could compete for a Stanley Cup. Sure, as long as they have Tavares they will be mediocre at the worst, but they aren’t at a level to compete for a championship at the moment. The additions of Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera, and PA Parenteau help, but they really only cancel out the departures of Kyle Okposo, Franz Nielsen, and Matt Martin. If they want their 25-year-old superstar to stay put, Snow is going to have to give Tavares the help he needs to bring the Stanley Cup back to Long Island.
Finally there is the money aspect. Tavares has established himself as one of the world’s best players and he will command a lot of money. If you want a contract to look to as a bar setter, Jamie Benn’s would be a good starting point. Benn’s extension gives him an AAV of $9.5 million over eight years. Tavares will be the same age when he hits free agency (27) and his statistics are very similar to Benn’s. We could see Tavares command around $10 million. The Islanders are projected to have about $45 million in cap room with a combined 12 restricted and unrestricted free agents, including Tavares.
That number may seem rather high but you have to remember that other players are going to be expecting significant pay raises in addition to Tavares, like Brock Nelson (RFA) and Thomas Hickey (UFA). Obviously Tavares will be priority number one for the Islanders, but if they don’t have enough room to add additional pieces and improve this roster, there may be better options out there for a player who badly wants to lift the Cup. Whether it’s via the expansion draft, trades, or letting people walk during free agency, Snow is going to have to get creative to create enough space for their beloved captain while also improving his hockey club.
Now, don’t start sweating just yet. He could very well sign an extension with the Isles or a new contract in free agency in two years. But a lot of things can happen in two years and if Snow isn’t careful, we could end up seeing another dark age of hockey on Long Island.