As Free Agency gets closer and closer, Islanders captain John Tavares is still without a new contract. New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist would love to have him onboard.
The John Tavares situation is a saga that has been closely followed since he was eligible to extend his contract with the New York Islanders on July 1, 2017. As the days tick down to July 1, 2018, JT remains without a new deal from the club that drafted him first overall in 2009.
If he does hit free agency, there is no doubt that teams will risk it all and open up their checkbooks to have him. While he might not be in a front office position, New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is one of many who would love to have Tavares on their team come next season.
“He’s a great player, there’s no question about it.” Henrik Lundqvist told Zach Brazillier of the New York Post. “Of course, if he would like to play for us, that would be big. I have a lot of respect for him as a player. He’s done a great job so many years.”
The 36-year-old, Henrik Lundqvist had the option to be apart of the Rangers’ Trade Deadline fire-sale but decided to stay put with the team that took a chance on him after he was passed up on 204 times during the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.
Madison Square Garden executive chairman James Dolan told Larry Brooks of the New York Post, “We told Hank that if he didn’t want to ride it out through this process, we’d find a good landing place for him, but he said that he wanted to stay and see it through.”
For those who can recall, the Rangers released a statement around the Trade Deadline saying that they plan on rebuilding, starting with the deadline. In exchange for some of their core players like Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller, they received some really good young players and draft picks. With that, it’s starting to look like this rebuild is already almost over.
As of now, it looks like they’ll have plenty of cap space and could potentially go from a rebuilder to a contender with the signature of just one man: Tavares. Of course, if he does become a free agent, the Rangers won’t be the only team after him. He might seem like a perfect fit but for every team without a franchise center, you could argue that he’s a perfect fit for them too.
Since Derek Stepan was shipped out to the Arizona Coyotes last offseason, the Rangers have lacked a number one center. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Tavares couldn’t instantly become that for the Rangers but one would have to wonder, would he even consider it?
The Rangers still have some pretty good players on their roster, especially up-front. Acquired in the trade that sent Nash to Boston, Ryan Spooner put up 16 points in 20 games.
A blood clot kept Chris Kreider out for a good chunk of the season but he still had 37 points in 58 games.
Mats Zuccarello (53 points in 80 games) and Mika Zibanejad (47 points in 72 game) are solid top-six forwards as well and now there will be an injection of youth into the lineup.
Towards the end of last season the Rangers’ two first-round selections in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, got a few games under their belt at the NHL level and impressed. More ice-time for the 23-year-old Pavel Buchnevich—something a new coach will almost certainly give him—will most likely do wonders for him as well.
Lundqvist’s numbers throughout his career have been steady. Through the naked eye, it sometimes appears that father time has caught up to him, but the numbers beg to differ. Lundqvist finished his rookie season with a 2.24 goals against average (GAA) and a .922 save percentage (Sv%). He finished his 13th season (the 2017-18 campaign) with similar numbers: A 2.98 GAA and a .915 sv%.
With every passing day, the odds of Tavares re-signing with the Isles seem to get worse and worse. If he does head to the Free Agency, he’ll be the biggest name to hit the market in about a decade. It goes without saying that he will make significantly more – perhaps more than double – the $5.5 million he was being paid annually by the Isles up until now.
Tavares is coming off the second-best season in his career with 37 goals and 84 points in 82 games (two points shy of a career-best set during the 2014-15 season). In 669 regular-season games, the Islanders’ captain has scored 272 goals and 621 points with an additional 11 goals (four of which have been game-winning goals) and 22 points in 24 postseason games.
Playing all nine of his NHL seasons with the Islanders thus far, Tavares has always elevated his game when playing against the Rangers. The 27-year-old has 14 goals and 38 points in 43 games of the New York-New York rivalry.
Ahead of a game against the Rangers during the 2014-15 season, Tavares told John Jeansonne of Newsday about his typical encounter with a Rangers fan.
“First they tell me they’re a Ranger fan, and I just say ‘OK’ usually. And when they’re kids, you always appreciate them just being hockey fans. Sometimes they apologize for being Ranger fans. And I say, ‘You don’t have to apologize to me. I just like beating you guys.”
At the beginning of this past season, Tavares was on the air with 98.7 ESPN New York radio, where he said that he “absolutely” hates the Rangers. In saying this is he just doing his part in keeping the rivalry alive or is this a genuine response?
One way or another, we’re pretty close to finding out Tavares’ decision.