The New York Islanders are hosting the New York Rangers at Barclays Centre tonight. Why does this matter? It could be John Tavares’ last game at home as a member of the Islanders.
Actually, scratch that, let’s just be honest. This is going to be Tavares’ last game at home as an Islander. Tavares has said he wants to be back, but, like, what else would he say? Also, even if he wants to stay, is this ownership going to pony up the cash to keep him around? Many around the league feel it’s inevitable that he’s gone.
Fill that stadium, Islanders fans. Even if you have to sit in one of the many spots where you can’t see the ice, get out there and appreciate this guy. I mean, hell, go and sit in that car they have in the corner of the rink and cheer him from there.
Tavares, drafted first overall in 2009, was never able to push the Islanders over the hump. That wasn’t his fault. He was supposed to be the guy to resurrect the Islanders from irrelevance, but thanks to some horrendous management and inconsistent ownership, he was never given the support to do so. He did lead them to the playoffs and he helped the team win its first playoff series since 1993, but the Islanders came nowhere near contending during their Tavares window despite the ludicrously team-friendly deal (six years, $33 million!!!) he signed back in 2011.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post has a great line that summarizes what’s going on in Brooklyn:
What if, after nine years of pledging his heart, soul and loyalty to the Islanders only to be repaid with unvarnished organizational incompetence, John Tavares decides that, yes indeed, he wants to see life from the other side?
This, of course, is in regards to Tavares leaving and signing with the Rangers, which would be unprecedented. But since he’s a local kid and Toronto media has been hyping him up as a possible future Leaf since he scored 91 goals for the Toronto Marlboros, we have to talk about whether or not John Tavares will sign in Toronto this summer.
Forward John Tavares making his Maple Leafs debut Thursday October 4th 2018 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus Ohio pic.twitter.com/Z9Pk3D7bfm— 🎱 (@VesaToskala) March 17, 2018
The Tavares and Toronto hype train hasn’t generated the same momentum as the Stamkos Toronto hype train did two summers ago. It seemed as though Local Boy Stamkos would come home and help lead the Leafs’ rebuild, but, instead, he ultimately chose to re-sign in Tampa Bay, live on the beach, and enjoy not paying income tax. Can you blame him?
Back then, though, the Leafs were bad. They had just drafted Auston Matthews and the franchise didn’t have a face. Over the last two years, the team has generated an identity. Matthews has been everything you could ask for and more, William Nylander and Mitch Marner have become excellent Robins to his Bat Man, and Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly, guys from the old rebuild, have carved out niches as very good players out of the spotlight.
The Leafs don’t really need a star right now like it seemed that they did in 2016 when Stamkos was set to hit the open market for the first time in his career. That’s why Tavares and the Leafs don’t make sense. That, and, well, money.
The Leafs have about $45 million committed to their roster next season. James van Riemsdyk, Leo Komarov, and Tyler Bozak, a group of franchise staples from the past few years, are set to hit free agency. William Nylander’s entry-level deal is expiring this summer and Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner’s entry-level deals are going to expire the following summer. When those three are signed, they’ll likely cost somewhere around $26 million combined.
With those players making that kind of cash, there’s no way the Leafs can find $10 million in the free agent market to ink John Tavares. As cool as it would be, it isn’t realistic. The money would be better spent on keeping around JVR, a familiar star payer in his own right, or diving into the free agent blueline market and bringing John Carlson on board. Actually, while we’re thinking out loud, Tavares could possibly be a fit on the West Coast in San Jose, freeing up Joe Thornton to make a one-year run with his good pal Patrick Marleau next season before the Matthews extension kicks in.