Maple Leafs, Islanders make pitches as John Tavares meetings begin

Watch as Sportnet’s Arash Madani goes above and beyond as he stakes out the John Tavares meetings.

They came one after the other. First, Lou Lamoriello’s former colleagues had a chance to pitch John Tavares on the merits of moving to Toronto, and then he took the opportunity to sit down with the free-agent centre himself and outline why it’s best to stay right where he is.

It was an unusual situation, especially when you consider how much success Lamoriello and Leafs coach Mike Babcock have enjoyed in these matters together. They rarely missed on a European free agent in Toronto over the last couple years. And while Nikita Zaitsev, Calle Rosén, Andreas Borgman, Miro Aaltonen, Par Lindholm and Igor Ozhiganov are not the least bit comparable to Tavares as players, each had a considerable number of NHL options in free agency and credited the relentless sales work from the GM/coach duo for why they ultimate chose Toronto.

“No salesman’s bulls––t,” Rosén’s agent, Jacob Hedin, told Sportsnet of his client’s experience last summer.

On Monday afternoon, it was Kyle Dubas leading Toronto’s two-hour pitch to Tavares and his representatives from CAA Sports. Flanked by Babcock and president Brendan Shanahan inside CAA’s Hollywood office, the 32-year-old GM delivered what was believed to be a well-prepared presentation to a 27-year-old centre that could become the biggest star in NHL history to test unrestricted free agency.

Now, no one is divulging any specifics from these meetings — not agent Pat Brisson, not the GMs involved — so those aren’t likely come to light until after a decision is made.

If they ever surface at all.

Lamoriello took a meeting with Tavares because the New York Islanders general manager and president of hockey operations has taken every available opportunity to speak with him since leaving the Leafs for his new position on May 22 (they even sat down face-to-face once before that). He has kept in touch almost daily since — a practice right out of the recruiting playbook he and Babcock worked from in Toronto.

On Monday night, Lamoriello brought along new Islanders head coach Barry Trotz for a session that stretched two hours 15 minutes and ended with both men smiling on their way out the door. Extending Tavares is essential for an organization making a full-court press to keep its franchise cornerstone in place. It may determine whether Lamoriello has any chance at success with the new job, which makes the ongoing interview period unique since he’s now competing with his former team, among others, for his own player.

“I don’t look at it like it’s a surprise,” Lamoriello said following last weekend’s draft. “I respect him. He has a right to do that. The important thing is that he’s an Islander at the end.”

On Tuesday he’ll have a chance to imagine what it’s like to be a Shark and a Bruin instead. San Jose and Boston are next up on the schedule and might bring something different to the table with Evander Kane hinting on Twitter that he’ll be part of the Sharks presentation.

Wednesday has been marked off for presentations by the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars.

There is also the possibility of phone calls and further meetings with a handful of other teams, but Tavares is hoping to keep the numbers manageable. Nashville, Vegas, St. Louis, Montreal and Colorado are among those that had been looking for a seat at the big table and didn’t get one.

The entire process has been carefully considered.

Tavares is a meticulous guy who spent the last couple months reviewing his options and had a 77-page book prepared that contained a deep dive into each of the organizations he was most likely to find appealing.

The face-to-face interviews are the next step he needs to work through before signing a contract that should ensure financial security for generations. League rules are clear about what can and can’t happen during these meetings prior to July 1:

“Clubs are permitted to discuss their potential interest in, as well as the general parameters of, a potential future contractual relationship with another Club’s pending RFA or UFA during the applicable ‘interview periods,'” read a recent memo distributed to teams by the NHL.

“But Clubs may not enter into any agreements, or make any binding offers, promises, undertakings, representations, commitments, inducements, assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind, express or implied, oral or written, concerning the terms of a potential SPC with another Club’s pending RFA or UFA.”

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In plain terms, Tavares can only legally negotiate and agree to a new deal with the Islanders before officially hitting the open market. The other suitors are left to wait as the clock ticks down towards Canada Day.

And while the notion of a one-year, max deal at $15.9 million with the Leafs has generated considerable discussion among fans, media and rival front-office members —
“I think they’re pushing this,” one said Tuesday morning — an insurance industry source with ties to hockey cast serious doubt they’d be able to convince Tavares to take it.

He believes the nature of the sport simply makes it too risky.

The source doesn’t count Tavares among his NHL clients, but noted that when players take out an insurance policy on future earnings it only covers career-ending injuries. There wouldn’t be a payout if Tavares, say, blew out his ACL and returned to the ice eight months later — albeit at a diminished state that kept him from fetching an $80-plus million contract the next time around.

As a result, the insurer reasoned, you need to lock down the guaranteed money when it’s on the table.

Just some food for thought as we enter Day 2 of #TavaresWatch.

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