LOS ANGELES – It wouldn’t be wise to go out and purchase a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater with John Tavares’ name on the back.
The pending 2018 free agent started being connected to his hometown team basically the minute Steven Stamkos re-signed with Tampa, but it sure doesn’t sound like the New York Islanders captain is going anywhere.
In fact, Tavares indicated that he’s interested in starting negotiations on an extension with the Islanders this summer – the earliest the collective bargaining agreement allows.
“Yeah, of course,” he said Saturday during the all-star weekend. “For sure. I’ve always stated how much I enjoy playing on Long Island and the organization, how well they’ve supported me. …
“I’m excited about where the Islanders are headed and hopefully we can work something out.”
The team is under new ownership with Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky and front-office changes are expected. They’ve been meeting with influential people in the sport over the past couple months and are believed to be interested in adding a president of hockey operations.
That’s left general manager Garth Snow’s job status in question.
Longtime head coach Jack Capuano was fired earlier this month with the team in the midst of an up-and-down season – causing many to speculate about how the turmoil might impact the Islanders’ ability to get Tavares to sign a new contract.
However, he seems to have faith in Malkin and Ledecky.
“I don’t talk to them on a daily basis, weekly basis or even a monthly basis,” said Tavares. “Certainly when they’re around we talk and say hello. A lot of that doesn’t have to do with hockey in general. For me as a player and as a captain, I’m trying to convey and connect the message from the coaching staff or management to the players in the locker-room.”
The 26-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., has spent his entire 557-game career with the Islanders after being selected first overall in 2009.
Last spring, Tavares scored the overtime goal in Game 7 against Florida that lifted the organization to its first series victory in more than two decades.
He would be an extremely hot commodity if he decided to test free agency 18 months from now. The Leafs made a pitch to Stamkos last summer and might be inclined to chase Tavares if given the opportunity.
So far the speculation hasn’t become a distraction for him.
“It is what it is,” said Tavares. “Obviously, my contract’s coming up in a year and a half, so people are talking. All I can do is just focus on playing the game and trying to make the playoffs.”
How the Islanders perform in the months ahead won’t impact how he views his situation.
“I don’t think from now until the end of the season will mean more than what, say, happened last year or previous years,” said Tavares. “We take that all into account. The vision and future of the team, I believe, is in good hands.”