After 2016’s Steven Stamkos-watch ended with the Tampa Bay Lightning captain staying put in Florida, many Leafs fans have already set their sights on the next Toronto-area star they want the team to target.
Tavares, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in July 2018, had a clear response when asked about a possible future with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I would not count on that,” Tavares told Sportsnet’s Andrew Walker during an appearance on Sportsnet 590 The FAN Tuesday.
“I think I’ve always showed my commitment, my appreciation and my desire to play on Long Island. I’d love for that to continue for the long haul,” he said. “I think you look at some of the greatest players in the game, they have been able to spend their entire careers somewhere and I hope I’m in that same position.
“Obviously being from Toronto, people are going to make those connections…It is what it is. It’s nothing I can control. I just want to go out there and be the best player and best person I can be for the Islanders, day in and day out, and I’m just going to focus on tomorrow and the upcoming season,” said Tavares, whose Game 6 overtime winner in April helped New York to its first playoff series win in 23 years.
If Tavares and the Islanders are to make a return trip to the playoffs in 2016-17, they’ll do so with a revamped roster. Gone are longtime Long Islanders Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin, all of whom left in free agency.
“I know how much they appreciated being Islanders, and would’ve loved for something to have worked out, but sometimes it doesn’t always work that way,” Tavares said of his former teammates.
“We’ll certainly miss those guys, and wish them the best — not against us, so much,” he said. “Some of my closest friends, and guys that have helped me along with my game and my career. Truly great people, and it’ll be definitely a big change.”
The team will have a new face in veteran Andrew Ladd, as well as plenty of youngsters ready to join the NHL on a full-time basis — players like Alan Quine, for one, who made an impact during the playoffs.
“We’ve added some good players, and obviously there are some young guys who are really coming through our system, and some young guys now who are looking to take the next step.
“We have some great pieces, and I like our makeup.”
With so many moving parts on the team, Tavares is hopeful he’ll stay put for the long haul.
“They drafted me there, gave me a great opportunity to play this game that I love and fulfill my dream,” he added. “They’ve put a lot of high expectations into me and I don’t take that lightly. I’ve always enjoyed being there from Day One, and I’d love to see it through and obviously lift the Stanley Cup there.”