John Tavares is an unrestricted free agent — the decision about his New York Islanders future will likely be made in the coming days.
For the past few months, unrestricted free agent John Tavares has met in-person and over the phone with a number of potential suitors. Soon, he will have to make a final decision about which city he is going to be calling home for the next seven or eight years.
Tavares is represented by Pat Brisson at the Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which is headquartered in Southern California. For the past week, the Tavares camp has been meeting with six teams from around the league — the Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders.
Each team had a couple of hours to make their pitch to the 27-year-old center. It is more than likely that the pitches focused on existing talent — the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, the Stars’ Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, the Sharks’ Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski, the Bruins’ Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy, the Leafs’ Auston Matthews and William Nylander, and the Islanders’ Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee.
The Islanders, in particular, possess a compelling pitch.
This summer, the team cleaned house, firing VP of Hockey Ops Claude Loiselle, general manager Garth Snow, head coach Doug Weight, video coach Matt Bertani, and assistant coach Greg Cronin. In their place, they hired Stanley Cup winning coach Barry Trotz and Hall of Fame executive Lou Lamoriello.
Tavares has captained the Islanders since September 2013. In a sport in which loyalty reigns supreme, the Isles continue to be the frontrunners in the Tavares sweepstakes. The Mississauga, Ontario native was picked first overall in the 2009 Entry Level Draft and has rewritten the Islanders’ record books ever since. He is fifth all-time in franchise history for points scored, trailing Hockey Hall of Famers Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin and Clark Gillies.
The Islanders are the only team that can offer Tavares an eight-year contract, as part of the CBA’s home team advantage. David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period reported last week that the Islanders have offered Tavares an eight-year, $88 million deal, with an annual value of $11 million. The pact will likely contain plenty of signing bonuses and be front-loaded, writes Dominik of Lighthouse Hockey.
Other clubs can only offer Tavares a seven-year pact, starting on July 1.
Tavares has been one of the league’s premier offensive talents since his debut nine years ago. He has led the Islanders to multiple playoff appearances and more than once thrust the weight of the team onto his shoulders. He has a remarkable blend of hand-eye coordination, imagination and hockey sense, and is a skilled passer and scorer.
Last season, Tavares netted 37 goals and 47 assists in 82 games. However, he was overshadowed by Mat Barzal, another phenom who went on to be named rookie of the year. Tavares and Barzal were key cogs in one of the league’s most potent offenses. The Islanders finished seventh in the league in goals scored, and sixth in power-play percentage.
However, the team’s defense was equally woeful.
The Islanders surrendered 3.57 goals-per-game, the worst mark in the league since the Philadelphia Flyers allowed 3.62 in 2006-07. The future in net and on defense is unclear, as goaltender Jaroslav Halák and defenseman Calvin de Haan are unrestricted free agents. The club has a number of promising blueliners — Ryan Pulock, Noah Dobson, Adam Pelech, Devon Toews and Mitch Vande Sompel — but their success is far from certain.
Over the weekend, the Islanders selected forward Oliver Wahlstrom and defenseman Noah Dobson in the first round of the draft. Lamoriello was thrilled with how things turned out. “I thought the day was excellent,” he told Newsday’s Andrew Gross. Tavares reached out to congratulate both draftees, reports Brian Compton.
Recently, the Islanders won the right to develop a parcel of land adjacent to the fabled Belmont Park. The construction of an 18,000-seat arena, in addition to a 400,000-square-foot retail village and hotel, is in the works for 2021. In the interim, they will split their home games between Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum.
For Tavares, choosing the Islanders would be a big-time gamble. On the one hand, the Islanders have young offensive talent, a new front office and a sparkling new arena. On the contrary, the Isles have been one of the league’s least successful and most dysfunctional teams over the past two decades.
The Islanders have an unusual setup where players and coaches live on Long Island, adjacent to the practice facility at Eisenhower Park, and away from Barclays Center, which has been the team’s arena since October 2015. “We’ve been here almost a decade now, and it’s such a great place to have a family,” Josh Bailey told the New York Times’ Allan Kreda.