DALLAS – There is one less unknown for John Tavares to weigh before he makes a career-defining decision.
Thursday’s announcement that Barry Trotz is heading straight from a Stanley Cup celebration to the New York Islanders bench was believed to be well-received by Tavares, who has yet to settle on where he’ll call home next season.
Bringing in the well-respected Trotz – whom Tavares won the World Cup of Hockey with back in 2016 – is a step in the right direction for an organization trying to sign its captain before he tests the open market. The team’s ownership wants to prove to No. 91 that it is serious about taking things to the next level and committing north of $20-million to land Trotz is certainly a big departure from past practice.
Still, general manager Lou Lamoriello isn’t sure if it’ll be enough. He’s had daily conversations with Tavares and his agent, Pat Brisson of CAA Sports, but still finds himself just days from having rival teams attempt to woo his franchise cornerstone away.
“That’s something that really is in John’s mind,” Lamoriello said, when asked if the Trotz hiring could entice Tavares to sign a long-term deal with the Islanders. “We don’t know what he’s thinking, but certainly he’s a very important part of this franchise.”
Even as many inside the industry believe the 27-year-old centre is leaning towards staying with the only NHL team he’s ever known, it’s notable that Tavares is due to be at Brisson’s office in Los Angeles on Monday for the start of the free-agent interview period.
As of late Thursday afternoon, he’d yet to finalize the list of teams that will be invited to make a face-to-face pitch. But it’ll be a small number, perhaps four or five. Tavares has done plenty of homework on the potential suitors and is believed to be focused on teams with a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup immediately.
Toronto and San Jose are two that fall into that category, according to sources. Boston, Nashville, and Vegas could work their way into the picture as well.
Kyle Dubas made it clear on Thursday night that the Leafs are preparing to make good use of the window to speak with free agents – “We have lots of cap space this summer, so that’s always nice,” he said – but told Sportsnet that he’s currently planning to be in Toronto on Monday.
Those plans, of course, can change if Tavares remains unsigned by the Islanders at the end of the weekend.
The new Toronto GM likes being able to speak with potential free agents prior to July 1.
“It’s interesting. The league, they’ve put this in recently, and I think if anything it’s good for the media and good for attention on the game because there’s no gap in between,” he said. “There’s people tracking where people are flying and going, and I think as much as you can keep the momentum of your season and your public relations rolling along it’s only good for the league to keep it in the public eye.
“It makes things a little bit hectic for us. We have our development camp next week as well, but our development staff will handle that and I’ll put my whole focus on free agency.”
Tavares has the potential to become the biggest free agent in the history of the NHL. His situation is reminiscent of Steven Stamkos from two years ago, when he met with a handful of teams ahead of free agency before signing an eight-year extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning on June 29.
As much as the Islanders have shaken things up this off-season – replacing Garth Snow with Lamoriello while also firing former head coach Doug Weight – there are still complications for Tavares to weigh. The team will split its home games between Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center next season and aren’t expected to have their new rink completed for three years.
The former first overall pick is an extremely loyal guy, but he’s also aware of his legacy. And he’s only reached the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs with the Islanders once in his nine NHL seasons.
Trotz expects that to change with Lamoriello now at the helm of the organization and looking to be bold.
“No. 1, if you know anything about Lou Lamoriello, his background and what he does, he will do what it takes to win,” Trotz told reporters on a conference call. “That got me excited right away. The leadership up top, a good roster, things can turn around really well with his leadership.”
Tavares will have a huge say in how that ultimately turns as well.