Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, you know that New York Islanders forward John Tavares has been hearing pitches from six NHL teams and has a decision to make with free agency looming.
Tavares spent 12 hours listening to pitches from the Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, and Tampa Bay Lightning. The last of the pitches wrapped Wednesday and the doors were closed, at least theoretically. Some reports have Tavares potentially meeting with another team or talking to a club or two over the phone.
The 27-year-old pending unrestricted free agent is the hottest property in the NHL right now because the next deal he signs will be a doozy.
But this is also news because this type of thing really doesn’t happen very often. A superstar seldom walks away from his franchise as a free agent, especially in the modern era. Teams are built around one or two big pieces and won’t let their biggest pieces walk for nothing.
The last time we came close to this kind of thing was with Steven Stamkos and the Lightning. He didn’t become a free agent and signed with Tampa after about 48 hours of courtship.
Few other players of Stamkos’ calibre even touch the final year of their contract, let alone let the clock run out.
Tavares can sign a contract up to seven years in term and he’ll get some huge green. The exception is that the Islanders can sign him for eight years. They sent Lou Lamoriello and new coach Barry Trotz to entice the superstar to stay.
If term is the issue, Tavares will remain with the Islanders. And in most historical cases, like the Stamkos situation, the home team gets the prize at the end of the day. Drumming up this kind of interest and holding relatively high-profile meetings in California may not ingratiate him to the folks in New York, but professional hockey is a business and Tavares is entitled to get what he thinks he deserves.
The Islanders made their pitch in more ways than one, throwing a lot of money at coaching and management and building a strong case that Long Island should be his home for a long time to come. The promise of solidity and a championship chance can tilt the scales. And they’ve got Mathew Barzal tapped for at least two more years, with thrilling prospects like Noah Dobson in the wings.
Yes, Tavares could be the next member of the Stars or Bruins or Sharks or Lightning. Or even the Maple Leafs. And that would be an exciting hockey story to kick off the summer free agent frenzy.
But if we’re being honest, the case to stay in New York is strong. And if hockey’s recent history has anything to offer, it’s that surprises aren’t really all that common in the modern NHL.