Updates on Tavares and Russell – September 10, 2016
More commentary on the “Toronto wants John Tavares” speculation, plus an update on the status of unrestricted free agent defenseman Kris Russell.
ESPN.COM: Pierre LeBrun reports Steven Stamkos offered up advice to Team Canada teammate John Tavares on how to handle the inevitable “Toronto wants Tavares” speculation over the next two years leading up to his eligibility for unrestricted free agency. “I just said to him, ‘Make sure you watch what you do on Twitter,'” Stamkos said with a chuckle this week. “That was my only advice. ‘Don’t stir the pot accidentally. Be careful.'”
The Mississauga-born Tavares has repeatedly said his intent is to remain with the New York Islanders, but he acknowledged he can’t control the speculation from fans and media linking him to the Maple Leafs. LeBrun said there’s zero sense at this point that Tavares wants to leave the Islanders. The earliest the talented center can re-sign with the Isles is July 1, 2017. While LeBrun says the betting is on that happening, he also notes the same thing was said about Stamkos last summer, when he entered the final season of his contract. Stamkos ultimately re-signed with the Lightning, but not until June 29 of this year.
TSN 1050 (via TODAY’S SLAPSHOT): LeBrun yesterday repeated his belief that there’s “zero inclination” from talking to Tavares that he has the Leafs on his mind. ” I really think that he wants to be an Islander for life,” said LeBrun. He does believe, however, the new Islanders organization has the 12 months to prove their commitment to improving the Islanders.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I don’t doubt Tavares’ commitment to the Islanders. He really wants to lead them to a championship. I agree with LeBrun that the ownership must prove they’re willing to do what’s necessary to build a winner.
It’s also worth noting the Isles currently have $27.9 million tied up in just nine players for 2018-19. That number will obviously increase before then, but their only notable free agents next summer are UFAs Cal Clutterbuck, PA Parenteau and Thomas Greiss plus restricted free agents Ryan Strome (currently still unsigned for 2016-17), Calvin de Haan, Adam Pelech and J-F Berube. The following year, their UFAs are Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Josh Bailey, Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Hickey and Jason Chimera, while Brock Nelson, Shane Prince, Alan Quine, Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield will be RFAs.
Even after re-signing or replacing those players, they should have sufficient cap space to meet Tavares’ asking price. Should Tavares become a UFA, there’s no guarantee he’ll be heading to Toronto. The Leafs would face stiff competition from several clubs for his services. Still, I don’t see Tavares leaving the Islanders.
If I were a Leaf fan, I wouldn’t waste my time with these silly UFA fantasies and instead put my faith in the young core of talent the Leafs are rebuilding with. As I’ve said before, the Leafs future lies with youngsters such as Auston Matthews,
Alexander William Nylander and Morgan Rielly, not in the fruitless pursuit of cap-busting free-agent veterans from southern Ontario.
NBC SPORTS: Adam Gretz recently pondered what he calls the “bizarre free agency saga” of defenseman Kris Russell. Despite Russell’s poor puck-possession numbers, Gretz notes his defensive player and reputation as a fearless shot blocker seemed to bolster his value at last season’s trade deadline and heading into this summer’s free-agent market. However, with training camp around the corner, the 29-year-old blueliner remains unsigned.
There was a rumor earlier this summer Russell rejected a four-year, $17 million offer from the Toronto Maple Leafs, but that was denied by his agent. There’s also reports as many as eight teams had serious discussions with Russell, but some of those clubs still must free up salary-cap space to make room for him. It’s still anticipated Russell could sign with a new club before training camps open in late-September.
TSN 1040 (via TODAY’S SLAPSHOT): Pierre LeBrun believes several teams have interest in Russell, but suggested his camp is waiting for some of the clubs to free up some cap space. He doesn’t see the Arizona Coyotes as taking on more salary to help one of those teams, considering they’ve already done so several times.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: We saw the same thing happen last summer with defenseman Cody Franson, who ultimately signed with the Buffalo Sabres right before training camp opened last September. It’s also possible some of the teams interested in Russell are waiting to see what the Anaheim Ducks do once they re-sign restricted free agent blueliner Hampus Lindholm.
There’s been widespread speculation throughout this summer suggesting the Ducks will have to move a defenseman once Lindholm is signed, with Cam Fowler considered the likely trade candidate. If so, Russell could become “Plan B” for one of the teams that lose out in the bidding for Fowler.