Even a rocky season, which led to the recent firing of long-time head coach Jack Capuano, seemingly hasn’t changed the long-term outlook or commitment of the club’s captain, who can become a first-time unrestricted free agent following the 2017-18 season.
Tavares said Saturday that he was even willing to start talks on a new contract this summer when he’s first eligible to sign an extension on July 1.
"I’ve always stated how much I enjoy playing on Long Island and the organization, how well they’ve supported me," Tavares said during the media day portion of NHL all-star weekend. "Obviously we’ve had some new ownership (come aboard recently) and they’ve brought some real commitment and shown their vision for the future so I’m excited about where the Islanders are headed and hopefully we can work something out."
Capuano’s firing on Jan. 17 immediately set off speculation externally about Tavares’ future with the Islanders. The club made its second straight post-season appearance last year — winning a round for the first time since 1993 — but proceeded to wobble through the first three-plus months of this year. New York has been missing the contributions of long-time Islanders Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, both of whom departed last summer through free agency.
Tavares took the news of Capuano’s dismissal hard. He’d been coached by Capuano since his second NHL season and was informed of the decision by general manager Garth Snow 20 minutes before it was made public. Assistant coach Doug Weight took over on an interim basis.
"You kind of, I don’t want to say get comfortable, but you get to know somebody really well and get an understanding of what the expectation is and how he handles things and probably (for) him the way I am as a person or as a captain," Tavares said. "You develop a really good relationship that way at the rink and even away from the rink."
He said Capuano had done "everything he could" to help the Islanders succeed.
"A lot of that falls on the shoulders of the players and myself, being the captain, not playing to the standard that we expect starting with myself," Tavares said.
Tavares has been the league’s hottest sniper since Jan. 12, just before Capuano’s dismissal, topping all players with eight goals and 13 points. The 26-year-old is on pace for 33 goals and 70 points, the exact numbers he put up last season.
The Mississauga, Ont., native signed a six-year, US$33 million deal to remain with the Islanders while still a restricted free agent in September 2011. He’ll be due a large pay-raise on his next deal and is ranked among the more productive scorers since he entered the league. Tavares trails only Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry and Sidney Crosby in scoring 226 goals during that seven-plus season span.
He’s tucked just inside the top-20 with 19 goals so far this year.
Tavares would rightly garner a lot of interest if he became available as a free agent, but he seems to have no intention of leaving the Islanders, who picked him first overall at the 2009 draft. He said that the final outcome of this particular season wouldn’t sway him one way or the other as it pertains to making an ultimate decision.
"I don’t think from now until the end of the season will mean more than say what happened last year or previous years. I think you take that all into account," Tavares said. "And obviously the vision and the future of the team which I believe is in good hands."