John Tavares New York Islanders
(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

John Tavares signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday to the tune of a seven-year, $77 million deal.

UPDATE: John Tavares has decided to sign on with the Toronto Maple Leafs for a seven-year, $77 million deal.

***Editor’s note: As of 1:00 p.m. ET, the Toronto Maple Leafs had announced that they had signed Tavares to a seven-year, $77 million deal, thus ending his tenure on Long Island.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman is reporting that the Islanders officially didn’t sign Tavares on Saturday night, meaning that the franchise center is now an unrestricted free agent. He is free to sign with the team of his choice, for a maximum of seven years.

For the past few months, unrestricted free agent John Tavares has met in-person and over the phone with a number of potential suitors. On Saturday, he failed to come to terms with the New York Islanders (pending late-breaking news) and will become an unrestricted free agent at noon.

Tavares had until midnight Saturday to accept a deal for as much as eight years from the Islanders. Teams can now offer him up to a seven-year contract.

Over the past week, Tavares has met at the Creative Artists Agency headquarters (where his agent, Pat Brisson, works) with six potential suitors — the San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders.

Each team sent a number of representatives to Southern California, hoping to convince the star forward to call their city home for the next seven or eight years. The pitches likely revolved around talent, stability and climate.

It is expected that Tavares will choose from that list of six teams.

Tavares will anchor the first line of whichever team he ends up signing with. Clubs seek a deal with Tavares, a five-time All-Star, because of his offensive creativity and imagination.

Tavares, who will turn 28 in September, has been the most consistent skater on the Islanders’ roster over the past nine seasons. The Islanders drafted Tavares first overall in the 2009 NHL Draft after the team finished the previous season with a league-worst 26-47-9 record.

He was a key contributor on the Islanders’ team that advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 23 years, in 2015-16, recording the game-winning goal in Game 6 of that first-round playoff series against the Florida Panthers.

This season, Tavares finished second on the team in goals (37) and points (84), and third on the team in assists (47). He was outpaced only by Mathew Barzal, the rookie phenom who won the Calder Memorial Trophy.

Tavares played in all 82 games this season — the second time in his career he played in every contest.

The Islanders’ window to re-sign Tavares began last July, but the center opted to focus on the season at hand rather than negotiations. Since then, the Isles have made radical changes to their organization, including the firing of Doug Weight and Garth Snow and the hiring of Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz.

Lamoriello, in particular, represents a stark change from previous administrations. The Hockey Hall of Famer has an impeccable résumé, guiding the New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs to dozens of playoff appearances and in the case of the former, Stanley Cup appearances.

Islanders co-owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky made it a point from day one that they had intended to do everything in their power to keep Tavares on Long Island.

Recently, the team announced that they had won the rights to develop the area adjacent to Belmont Park. The project will include an 18,000-seat arena and a 400,000-square foot retail village and hotel and is projected to be completed by 2021.

Failing to come to terms with Tavares means that the
Islanders will likely fall short of their triple crown aspirations this offseason — a new general manager and head coach, and the re-inking of the franchise center.

However, all hope isn’t lost. Tavares could still come to terms with the team, but even if he doesn’t, the Islanders will have upwards of $30 million to spend on free agents this summer.

In the event that they don’t sign him, the team’s first priority this summer will be retooling the defense, after the club allowed a league-worst 3.57 goals-per-game last season. With Jaroslav Hálak and Calvin de Haan set to hit the open market, Lamoriello will have a lot of work on his hands.

It’s going to be a long week on Long Island if the captain officially becomes the one who got away.

Justin Weiss is a staff editor at Elite Sports New York, where he covers the New York Islanders and Brooklyn Cyclones. In 2016, he received a Quill Award for Freelance Journalism. He has written for the Long Island Herald, FanSided and YardBarker.