John Tavares isn’t stressed, but Islanders fans should be

Sean Reynolds takes a look at the Jordan Eberle trade to the New York Islanders and breaks down how it helps both John Tavares’s team and the Oilers clear up cap space to sign their star players.

Curious why your left eye keeps twitching?

Why your forehead’s a cold-sweat mess, you can hear your heart pulse like it’s tethered to your Beats by Dre, and you feel an urge to grasp something stable so you don’t faint?

The cause of your symptoms is simple and frightening.

You are a New York Islanders fan, and John Tavares is not nearly as anxious to re-sign with your team as you’d like.

During a phone call with Newsday‘s Arthur Staple Wednesday, the most coveted potential unrestricted free agent in more than a decade said he’s in “no rush” to sign an eight-year contract so rich that it should catapult his cap hit ($5.5 million, tied for the 100th most in the NHL) into the league’s top five or maybe, with Connor McDavid upping the ante, the top two. (Anze Kopitar got $10 million per; Leon Draisaitl just got $8.5 million. Anything less than $10 million times eight for Tavares is now looking like a bargain for the Isles.)

The star player — if you take him at his forever plainspoken word — may be able to compartmentalize. Tavares says he’ll focus on playing, on trying to haul his bubble team through the sport’s most talent-blessed division and into the post-season and, ultimately, sip from Phil Kessel’s portable hot dog stand.

But us media types and us fan types, well, we’ll be wondering about the business side of things, which, contrary to athlete cliché, doesn’t just take care of itself.

“In terms of signing a new contract, there’s a lot that goes into it. To really dive into all the details, get into all the conversations I’ve had with Garth [Snow], the team and Doug [Weight], I don’t think it’s productive to the situation and the negotiating,” Tavares told Staple this week. “It’s only a distraction if you let it become a distraction.”

The way Tavares has tweaked his tune when talking contract over the past 365 days spells a long, nerve-wracked winter for Islanders fans. Here are some quotes:

Aug. 15, 2016: “I don’t really have any reason to leave and I think we have a great makeup and a team that can do something special…. I’ve always expressed my love for playing for Long Island. It’s where I started; it’s all I know in the NHL. The opportunity they’ve given me, I would love to see it all the way through and win a Stanley Cup.”

Jan. 28, 2017: “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 vision and future of the team, I believe, is in good hands.”

April 10, 2017: “At the end of the day, I want to win a Stanley Cup. I think everyone here is committed to doing that. Hopefully we can work something out and I’m here.”

Aug. 16, 2017: “For me, there’s really no rush…. I’m trying to determine things, let the process run its course, keep the lines of communication open, keep it all internal and it’s been good so far.”


It’s just smart negotiating to not appear overly eager to sign the dotted line.

Hockey players aren’t like their basketball brethren. These superstars always stick with the girl that invited them to the dance. Steven Stamkos did. Ditto Jamie Benn, Brent Burns, et al. Already this summer, 2018’s best impending RFA (Connor McDavid), UFA goalies (Carey Price, Martin Jones), and UFA defencemen (Cam Fowler, Marc-Edouard Vlasic) re-upped within days of eligibility.

Tavares continues to believe the Isles can contend and maintains he loves the city. Garth Snow committed to a head coach Tavares really likes and traded for a wingman Tavares is pumped to skate with.

“Johnny is a pretty loyal guy,” Maple Leafs forward Matt Martin, a close friend of Tavares’, told Newsday this summer.

“It’s a tough decision. Obviously, this next contract is probably going to be where he essentially plays for the rest of his career and it’s something he’s got to think over and consider. I don’t think that [just because] he didn’t sign on July 1 is any indication that he’s not signing with the Islanders.”

Relax… while you can.

We are still Johnny T minus 319 days until whatever we’ll dub Tavares’ version of Babwatch or Stammergeddon. (#Tavaresignhimalready!)

Tavares’ situation in 2017-18 is everything and nothing like that of Stamkos in 2015-16.

Same: A couple of first-overall draft picks and franchise faces out of Toronto anticipating their greatest career payday in their mid-twenties while still thirsting for a championship. Both comfortable to let things play out while weighing their fate.

Different: The Lightning is not only much closer to its ultimate goal but has surrounded its captain with a deeper and more dynamic supporting cast while (mostly) avoiding bad, desperate-looking contracts like Andrew Ladd‘s 2016 windfall, which came partly at the expense of letting Tavares’ productive friend, Kyle Okposo, walk.

More important, the off-ice picture in Tampa — arena deal, ownership, GM, coaching staff, attendance — is about as stable as it gets in this league. The tax situation in Florida is cool for multimillionaires, too. No wonder a couple of respected hockey reporters, Elliotte Friedman and Larry Brooks, have speculated Tampa as Tavares’ landing spot.

So bright was the Bolts future in ’16 that GM Steve Yzerman was not only willing to let Stamkos meet with other clubs but was prepared to dress a strong hockey team if he chose Door No. 2.

The Islanders don’t have near such luxury. Barclays Center is poorly populated and not very hockey-friendly. A possible Belmont Park rink development is wading through the good-idea stage. The Isles are competing for winter eyeballs in area with two NFL, three NHL and two NBA teams. And after firing two head coaches and winning just one playoff round in 11 seasons, Snow must be on the hot seat.

If Snow & Co. aren’t confident in a Tavares extension by the trade deadline, or much sooner, can they really afford to roll the dice on July 1? To not rebuild or reset with help from dealing the two-way centre to, say, a desperate Marc Bergevin?

“Everyone’s circumstances are different; everyone’s situation is different,” Tavares said Wednesday. “I think the year Stamkos re-signed, [Tampa] was a game away from the finals. So that was a team that didn’t let that situation affect them, nor do I think it should. For me, it’s just focusing on being a hockey player and the way I’ve approached every season.”

Like his pal Stamkos, Tavares is the model pro. He’ll politely answer your contract question, again. He’ll say the right things, bury any anxiety on his part, and bust his butt for Weight and Eberle and whoever slots in for Travis Hamonic.

But unlike Stamkos, Tavares’ decision will not only affect his personal story but that of a franchise. This one, Tavares says, is “a lot more complicated than people realize.” It’s beyond just term and dollars.

It’s about legacy and trust and stability and that line where loyalty rewards you or robs you.

“Having certainty on where you’re playing is important,” Tavares told us last summer. “Ownership has said they’re committed to Brooklyn. If things change, we’ll see.”

There’s still time, sure. Islanders fans can use it to panic.

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