Though there is certainly no guarantee that John Tavares even reaches free agency, he’s now less than a week away from being allowed to sit down with teams around the league. Should he not sign an extension with the New York Islanders before that time comes, teams all across the NHL are expected to reach out and try to set up a meeting. Bob McKenzie of TSN reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs are one of those clubs, stating that they are “putting together a promotional video” that would include pitches from current players in order to try and woo Tavares into signing with them.
Tavares of course is from the Greater Toronto Area originally, and played his minor hockey there before heading to Oshawa and the OHL. There have been rumors for years that the team would attempt to sign him should he ever reach free agency, though those were purely speculative in nature. Tavares for his part has never indicated that he would like to return to Toronto, or even leave the Islanders in the first place. Still, with every passing day the idea that he will at least listen to other teams gains credibility just as it did with Steven Stamkos. Stamkos, for what it’s worth, did entertain a pitch from the Maple Leafs before deciding to re-sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Maple Leafs have huge decisions to make this summer when it comes to their own young players, as William Nylander is a restricted free agent while Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are eligible for extensions. Jake Gardiner, one of the team’s best defensemen is entering the final year of his current contract and would likely need a substantial raise to remain with the team. All of that puts Toronto in a precarious position when pitching to a player like Tavares, who will likely demand one of the biggest contracts in NHL history and become the second highest-paid player in the league behind Connor McDavid. While the Toronto media has been speculating about ways around a contract that would bring a big cap hit to the Maple Leafs, the league—and players’ union—are surely keeping a close eye on the situation.
New GM Kyle Dubas could make a huge splash by landing Tavares, though the team would have plenty of tough times ahead fitting the group under the cap. Even acquiring the superstar center doesn’t fix some of the problems the Maple Leafs have faced on the back end, where they’ve struggled defensively for years. A trio of Tavares, Matthews and Nazem Kadri up the middle would be one of the league’s best, but could come at the cost of help elsewhere on the roster.
In the end, all this confirms is that Toronto will be one of the bidders come July 1st should Tavares reach free agency. He’s expected to garner many offers, and he’ll have to choose if heading home is a priority.