Latest Tavares Speculation – March 31, 2018
Check out the latest speculation regarding the future of New York Islanders star John Tavares in your NHL rumor mill.
FANRAG SPORTS NETWORK: Chris Nichols cites NHL insider Bob McKenzie yesterday telling Toronto’s TSN 1050 he doesn’t know what plans New York Islanders center John Tavares has in mind for this summer, when he’ll be eligible on July 1 to become an unrestricted free agent. However, McKenzie’s gut feeling is Tavares is “more likely to explore free agency than not, but I don’t know that for a fact. That’s just an opinion.”
Nichols also cites insider Elliotte Friedman appearing yesterday on Toronto’s Sportsnet 590 discussing the dynamic between Tavares and the Islanders. There’s a rumor Tavares was unhappy over management’s inability to improve the club at the trade deadline, but until Tavares publicly says so, Friedman thinks that’s just a guess. He also believes the Isles will approach their captain following the season to try and find a way to work things out.
Earlier in the week, Nichols cited McKenzie’s colleague Pierre LeBrun’s on Montreal’s TSN 690 where the topic of possible destinations for Tavares via free agency was discussed. He thinks the Montreal Canadiens could pursue the Isles captain but they’ll have competition from clubs such as the Vegas Golden Knights, St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks “where the glare wouldn’t be the same.” The Canadiens could use Carey Price and Shea Weber as selling points, as they played alongside Tavares on Team Canada in the Olympics and World Cup of Hockey.
THE ATHLETIC: In a recent Toronto Maple Leafs mailbag segment, James Mirtle was asked about the possibility of the Leafs pursuing Tavares. He feels the Leafs will look into it this summer, suggesting they have the salary-cap room (though it would be a tight fit) to address their hole at center. Mirtle suggests the Leafs don’t have to go nuts and offer Tavares $13 million per season but the opportunity to play in his hometown for a team that has an excellent chance to win a championship could be a selling point. However, he guesses the Leafs would have a 10-15 percent chance of landing the Isles captain.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Tavares and the Islanders faced off last night against the Leafs in Brooklyn, which explains in part the increased interest in his future. Bear in mind that none of these pundits are saying for certain that he’s a goner come July 1.
Tavares and the Isles have kept things quiet regarding contract talks. He’s said all the right things about wanting to stay and management’s indicated their willingness to re-sign him. Perhaps that changes once the Isles’ season ends next month and contract discussions pick up in earnest. The closer we get to the start of free agency and the longer he goes without a new contract, the more speculation we’ll see over his future.
Cap Friendly indicates the Canadiens have over $62.3 million invested in 21 players. Should the cap ceiling increase as projected to $80 million they’ll have plenty of room to ink Tavares to an expensive contract, perhaps more if they trade winger Max Pacioretty ($4.5-million cap hit) this summer. But with the Canadiens looking like a club in need of a rebuild, Price and Weber might not be sufficient selling points for Tavares if he wants to join a potential Cup contender.
With $49.7 million invested in 16 players for 2018-19 (and that includes Nathan Horton on permanent LTIR), the Leafs have even more room to take on Tavares this summer, re-sign restricted free agent William Nylander to a hefty raise and maybe add a top-four defenseman as well. But as Mirtle also noted, things get tight the following season when Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are due for hefty raises. And if the Leafs don’t add a top-four rearguard this summer, they won’t be able to afford pursuing someone such as Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty or Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson via free agency in 2019.
The Leafs would be better off bolstering their defense than blowing their brains out in an expensive pursuit of Tavares. He won’t take a discount to play in Toronto. I think they would be lucky to get him for less than $11 million annually. If they wish to address their depth at center, they could find more affordable options this summer via trade or free agency, leaving sufficient cap room next year to re-sign Matthews and Marner and to improve the defense corps.