The John Tavares sweepstakes are in full-swing, with reporters standing outside the CAA offices documenting the arrivals of team executives and hoping for a post-meeting thought when they depart.
Good luck with that.
Although Tavares is meeting with five teams, and expected to talk with others over the phone, the prevailing opinion is that he’ll re-sign with the Islanders. Lou Lamoriello and Co., don’t have a ton of leverage over the likes of Toronto, Tampa Bay or San Jose — teams already built to win now — but they do have a leg up on the competition in one regard.
The Islanders are the only team that can offer Tavares an eight-year contract — everyone else is capped out at seven. There have been some wondering whether or not Tavares could be attracted to sign a one-year max-cap deal of $15.9 million, but that on its own comes with security and injury risks that the player may not want.
“There’s so much danger in hockey, everybody gets injured more or less,” Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston said Monday on the FAN 590’s Good Show. “There’s so few players that don’t have things happen via concussions, they get hit in the face with a puck. There are all kind of fluky ways you could see your career end, so it’s hard to give up the security of a seven- or eight-year offer from a team even if you think you might make more down the road.
“I think the one-year deal is too much risk for where he’s at in his career and the kind of money that’s on the table.”
Others are wondering if there is a CBA loophole teams can take advantage of here. If you have a player currently on your roster whose contract expires July 1, 2019, they can be signed to an extension as early as this July 1. Using Toronto as an example, Auston Matthews becomes an RFA next July 1, but could sign an extension on Sunday.
So by signing Tavares to a one-year deal, could a team hypothetically then re-sign him to an eight-year extension on the same day, thus effectively negotiating a nine-year contract?
Article 50.5 of the CBA goes over payroll and Standard Player Contract (SPC) rules and states:
“A Player who is party to a one-year SPC may not enter into an “extension” of such SPC prior to January 1 of the League Year covered by such SPC.”
So no, there isn’t a loophole in there. If Tavares did sign a one-year contract he wouldn’t be eligible to extend that until Jan. 1.
And, in fact, he wouldn’t even be able to sign an eight-year extension with the Leafs, or any other non-Islanders team, until after the trade deadline. Further down Article 50.5 is this explanation as to who can sign a player for eight years:
The following practices also shall not be permitted under this Agreement and may not be included in any SPC, nor otherwise agreed to by any Club, any person or any entity:
(iv) An SPC with a term of greater than seven (7) years, provided, however, that a Club may sign a Player to an SPC with a term of up to eight (8) years if that Player was on such Club’s Reserve List as of and since the most recent Trade Deadline.
So because Tavares would have been on no team’s reserve list at a trade deadline other than New York’s last year, he couldn’t even lock in to an eight-year deal following a hypothetical one-year contract until late-February or early-March.
That’s a ton of risk for a player who is set to earn upwards of $88 million guaranteed.
Still, there is an interesting scenario to consider here. Would the Leafs, or some other team, be able to lure Tavares to town for the max cap hit one-year deal and then sign him to an eight-year extension after the deadline for a salary cap hit more in line with what the team could fit in coming years? By combining the one max year with eight years of solid earning, Tavares could in the end make more than he would by signing a seven-year deal on July 1, or an eight-year deal with the Islanders prior to July 1.
It would be a perfectly legal move to make, provided the terms weren’t agreed to as part of the one-year commitment. If a team did pull this move, though, surely competing teams and the league would want to look into it.
There is no way this should be considered the most likely — or even a likely — scenario as Tavares probably will follow a similar route other big-money UFAs have in the recent past and sign for the long term. A one-year deal on its own is so undesirable because the player would have to take on so much risk to their future earnings, while turning down a pile of guaranteed money.
To land what would effectively be a nine-year deal, Tavares would have to take on the risk of a one-year contract on his own for five months of hockey and couldn’t negotiate further security until at least Jan. 1. To max out the earning he’d have to wait even longer for an extension, and if he became injured in the meantime, the whole thing could fall apart.
Nothing about a one-year contract comes with any guarantee.