Will John Tavares be wearing a New York Islanders jersey next season? What about the season after that?
The Islanders captain will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018. Like Steven Stamkos before him, there’s a brewing media storm about the Ontario boy coming home to play with the Maple Leafs. But with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander all coming up for new contracts in the next three years, the Maple Leafs wouldn’t be able to afford Tavares without major re-structuring. But that doesn’t mean Tavares will copy Stamkos and sign a long-term extension.
While the Islanders are in the midst of a playoff battle (two points behind final wildcard spot with a game in hand), it hasn’t been a great year for the franchise. After a few debatable free agency moves, arena problems, and a coaching change, the Islanders have gone from a 100-point season and visit to the second round to fighting to make the playoffs at all. Tavares has publicly stated that he’s interested in signing an extension, but many hockey insiders have wondered about his willingness to sign long-term based on the questions surrounding the Islanders. Last week, TSN’s Darren Dreger said he “wouldn’t be shocked” if the Islanders explored trading Tavares this summer, and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman re-iterated those rumors on Hockey Night In Canada last night.
It’s likely that Tavares is worth somewhere between $8.5MM and $10MM on a long-term contract. Our Gavin Lee suggested Stamkos and Anze Kopitar as good comparables for Tavares. The Islanders will have the space two years from now to offer that money, with Jaroslav Halak, Mikhail Grabovski, and Nikolai Kulemin all coming off the books that summer.
Friedman pointed out that the Islanders have offered Tavares’ agent, Pat Brisson, a job running their hockey operations at least once. The idea was to make Tavares more comfortable signing long-term. If the team struggles to get Tavares locked up and decides to trade him this summer, the right trade could set the franchise up for the next decade.
If Tavares signs long-term, then the club will have to make moves to surround him with the talent to become a Stanley Cup contender; if he wants to move on, then it will be a full-on rebuild for the Islanders.