ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that upon his arrival in Toronto for the World Cup of Hockey, the rumors of 2018 free agent John Tavares signing with his home-town Toronto Maple Leafs one day have again some to the surface. As they have so many time before, the rumors of a return are being shot down. As of now, Tavares’ only plans are to remain with the New York Islanders and try to lead the team to Stanley Cup.
A 25-year-old superstar, Tavares can’t help it that he is now the center of attention for hockey’s biggest fan base. The Mississauga, Ontario native grew up in the area as a Maple Leafs fan and acknowledged that there is always pressure for top Canadian players to “come home” and play for the Leafs. As a junior hockey prodigy, whose ascension to the NHL was on a borderline-mythological level with the likes of Sidney Crosby and more recently Connor McDavid, Tavares has heard the buzz before about being Canada’s next big hockey star. He’s lived up to the hype as well, with 471 points in just 501 career NHL games.
However, dominating at the NHL level brings with it a devoted fan base and deep connection to a team and city. As LeBrun mentions, Steven Stamkos was the most recent player to pass up a role as Toronto’s prodigal son to simply stay with the team that drafted him. An established star in Tampa, Stamkos chose to take less money and continue to lead a strong Lightning squad to further success. Rather than bolting for a new opportunity close to home, Stamkos decided to repay the organization and fan base for their continued support and dedication by working toward bringing the Stanley Cup back to Tampa Bay.
It seems likely that Tavares will follow suit. His comments on the matter have always shown a deep connection to Islanders and their fans and the young star surely would like to do his best to win a Cup with the team he has come to lead. With that said, there are still almost two years remaining before Tavares truly has to make his decision. With a new ownership group, constant concerns over where the team should be playing their games, and even some speculation that the Islanders’ long-term roster outlook is not especially strong, the next two seasons will be very important for New York. They don’t need to convince Tavares to stay, but they certainly need to avoid having reasons to leave pile up. However, as of now, LeBrun and Stamkos seem convinced that Tavares wants to be an “Islander for life” and the man himself has yet to disagree. Toronto Maple Leafs fans can keep hoping, but as it stands John Tavares isn’t going anywhere.