A “sign-and-trade” scenario, in which a player signs with his current team or another only for the purposes of being traded to a different team, is uncommon in the NHL. It most frequently seen in the NBA, where such deals often offer the teams making the deal some salary cap loophole or benefit. The straightforward NHL hard cap doesn’t require such moves very often; in fact no sign-and-trade has occurred in the salary cap era. However, TSN insiders Pierre LeBrun and Darren Dreger think one high profile free agent could necessitate such a deal: New York Islanders superstar John Tavares.
Now, there is still no word on what Tavares’ plans are this season. He is undoubtedly the biggest name among potential unrestricted free agents this off-season, but could still choose to stay with the Islanders. Tampa Bay Lightning phenom Steven Stamkos was in a similar situation two years ago and waited about as long as possible before simply re-upping with Tampa. Tavares could certainly do the same. Dreger says that Tavares will meet with agent Pat Brisson following the season – which for the Islander should be next month – to discuss the situation and the many factors that could keep him in New York or instead drive him away. Dreger adds that Tavares is expected to inform GM Garth Snow and the Islanders as to what his plans are ahead of the NHL Draft in June.
If Tavares does let Snow and company know that he has decided to move on, it doesn’t rule out his re-signing with the team, again for the purposes of a sign-and-trade. As LeBrun points out, all three parties involved could benefit from such a deal. Tavares could gain an eighth year to his new contract, available only in extensions, if he first signs with the Isles. The team he is traded to could also use the eighth year to lessen the cap hit on the deal by dropping the actual salary as the years go on, as so often happens in lengthy contracts for players of a certain age. Finally, the biggest concern for the Islanders and their fans is obviously watching Tavares walk away for nothing. While they won’t get a return similar to if they had dealt Tavares at the deadline, New York will still get something in exchange for enabling the sign-and-trade. At this point, getting anything at all for losing Tavares has to appeal to the Isles.
Will such a scenario play out this summer? There hasn’t been a sign-and-trade this century, so obviously the odds don’t favor it. However, there are aspects of the situation that lend themselves to this being the exception to the rule. The most likely result is still that Tavares stays in New York. If that doesn’t happen, it likely means he wants to test the open market. Yet, there is a possibility that Tavares will have a specific destination in mind prior to July 1st and, if that happens, a sign-and-trade could be the ideal scenario for everyone involved.