The New York Islanders stand to be one of the most interesting teams to watch in the lead-up to the Feb. 26 trade deadline. Currently hanging on to the final wild-card spot in the East, the Isles are dealing with a banged-up blue line and a goaltending situation that screams for an upgrade.
Behind all of those questions that will come into focus by the end of next month, though, is the status of the team’s superstar. John Tavares is 27 and his contract, that comes with a very team-friendly $5.5-million cap hit, expires in July, at which time he could become the most sought-after free agent of the salary cap era. While in Montreal for a game against the Canadiens on Monday, Tavares was again asked about the decision that lies ahead for him.
“I want to stay on Long Island … I haven’t thought about being anywhere except with the Islanders,” he said to Newsday’s Arthur Staple.
There are a lot of factors that figure to weigh in to Tavares’ final decision on whether to stay with the team that drafted him first overall, or leave for a fresh start elsewhere. One, certainly, is the arena situation, which had some resolution last month when the Islanders were announced as the winning bid to build an arena at Belmont Park. It will still be a few years until construction is finished, though, and at that announcement Tavares said the new arena would not be a deciding factor for him.
Tavares has said on many occasions that he wants to remain with the Islanders, but each day we get closer to July 1 without a new deal in place, more speculation stirs. On Sportsnet Monday night, insider Chris Johnston reported that no contract talks had been taking place between Tavares and the Islanders, which appeared to be the choice of the player’s side.
“What’s happening behind the scenes suggests John Tavares still has questions about the direction of this organization,” Johnston said. “We thought some of them would be answered, or a lot of them, when they arranged the arena deal which was completed a couple weeks back. But at this time there is still no dialogue. And as we get closer to the trade deadline there will be more discussion and certainly if we get beyond that time the likelihood of him testing free agency grows higher.”
With their own first-round pick, plus Calgary’s acquired in the Travis Hamonic trade last summer, GM Garth Snow has assets to move for players of need to give the Islanders a push towards the playoffs. Whether Tavares’ status pushes the GM into action remains to be seen, but the hockey world is watching what they do, and what Tavares ultimately decides about his future.