When discussing potential NHL free agents this offseason, no name is a better conversation starter than John Tavares. The 27-year-old Mississauga, Ontario native has spent the first nine years of his professional career with the New York Islanders after being drafted first overall by the club back in 2009. Throughout the 2017-18 season, rumors have been circulating as to whether or not Tavares might resign with the Isles, and now, just over a week from free agency, it looks as though he may be close to making his final decision.
Over the course of the last year, the Islanders organization has made various maneuvers to keep captain John Tavares from fleeing to other tempting opportunities with franchises such as the Montreal Canadiens or his hometown team the Toronto Maple Leafs. Back in December, the Islanders solved what many believed to be a key issue in coming to negotiations with Tavares when the team announced plans to construct a new arena back on Long Island with a $1 billion dollar construction project in Belmont Park, home to the world-renowned Belmont Stakes. The complex, which would include luxury hotel and retail, solved issues of location and practicality that have been lacking during the team’s time at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn
The Islanders averaged just over 75% capacity during the 2017-18 season, second to last in the league only behind the Carolina Hurricanes. The Barclays Center is an arena simply not fit to hold an NHL franchise. This fact, in combination with its location in Brooklyn, away from Long Island, devastated the Islanders’ attendance numbers. However, with construction not set for completion until 2020 at the earliest, the team would be in limbo for at least three seasons. It was announced in January by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that for the next three seasons the Islanders will split their home games between the Barclays Center and the team’s original home at Nassau Coliseum until club’s new arena is ready.
Would Tavares want to spend nearly half of his next contract dealing with the same arena issues that have plagued the organization for years? The reason the team even moved to the Barclays Center back in 2015 was because Nassau Coliseum was deemed unfit for an NHL franchise. While moving back to Nassau temporarily might hold over fans for a couple seasons, it is not necessarily a situation that would entice a star player like John Tavares.
New Front Office
In conjunction with new arena plans, the Islanders also brought in legendary general manager (among many other titles) Lou Lamoriello from Toronto back in May in an apparent move to not only attempt to resign Tavares, but also refocus an organization that has qualified for the postseason just three times in its last 11 attempts.
Lamoriello, taking on the role of president of hockey operations, quickly disposed of long time GM Garth Snow, who had been at the job since 2006, along with head coach Doug Weight, who had spent the last season and a half as the man in charge behind the Islanders’ bench. Over the last few unsuccessful seasons, Snow took the brunt of criticism, as men in his position tend to do. It is unclear how much his dismissal with effect Tavares negotiations, but the action by Lamoriello to remove both coach and manager upon his arrival is a clear indication that he plans on pointing the organization in a new direction.
After winning the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals, Barry Trotz resigned from his post as head coach and quickly joined Lamoriello and the Islanders. Trotz will coach the Islanders for at least the next few years, and he stated that he has already had conversations with Tavares.
Will a new building, coach, and president be enough to keep Tavares an Islander? The team still has issues in net that would undoubtedly have to be solved to make the team competitive in the coming seasons, but one clear positive for the organization is the addition of Mathew Barzal.
Barzal had 22 goals and 63 assists in his rookie season, and won the Calder Trophy for the league’s top rookie by a landslide. He played mostly on the Islanders’ second line, centering wingers Anthony Beauvillier and Jordan Eberle. Barzal, the 16th pick overall by the Islanders in 2015, has the ability to run the offensive zone and find passing lanes in a way that makes him capable of picking apart the defense of opposing teams night in and night out.
Per Larry Brooks of the New York Post, Tavares is meeting with five teams outside of the Islanders to get a feel on his value at the open market. No word on who those teams are, but it can be speculated a team with a lot of cap room, like the Vegas Golden Knights, might be in on those discussions. It is worth noting that Tampa Bay forward Steven Stamkos did the same thing two years ago, yet he ended up resigning with the Lightning anyway.
It is unclear where Tavares will end up, but one thing for certain is that the Islanders are still very much invested in keeping him a part of the organization. With youth on the rise along with a new arena on the way, Tavares could very well ended up sticking around, but it sounds like we won’t know for sure until closer to free agency on July 1st.
Photo: (PAUL SANCYA / AP) (Architects Newspaper) (TSN.ca)