New York Islanders co-owner John Ledecky has already said GM Garth Snow is going to have no financial restrictions when it comes to making the team a Stanley Cup contender once again, and that seems especially true when it comes to locking up Islanders captain John Tavares.
Tavares, 25, is currently in the fifth year of a six-year, $33-million deal that could see him become an unrestricted free agent come the end of the 2017-18 season. According to Newsday’s Arthur Staple, when Ledecky was asked how the Islanders would approach things when Tavares is inching closer to free agency, he said plainly that Tavares “is not going to be a free agent.”
While it’s one thing to say it and another to make the deal reality, it sure seems like Ledecky and Co. are willing to do whatever necessary to get Tavares to sign on the dotted line. And while it’s hard to know where Snow’s starting point will be come July 1, 2017 — the day he can officially submit a contract extension offer to Tavares — the eight-year, $76-million deal inked by Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn offers an almost perfect comparable.
The deal signed by Benn comes after what has been three consecutive career years for the winger. In 2013-14, Benn started his ascent to being one of the league’s star players with a 34-goal, 79-point campaign. He followed that up with 35 goals, 85 points and an Art Ross Trophy victory in 2014-15. And this past season, Benn eclipsed the 40-goal plateau for the first time in his career with a spectacular 41-goal, 89-point season, which went along with a third-place finish in Hart Trophy voting.
Benn’s scoring ability over the past two seasons has been literally second-to-none, and Benn has been one of the game’s premier players since the beginning of the lockout-shortened season. But right alongside him has been Tavares.
Since the start of the 2012-13 season, 19 points separate Benn and Tavares, but that gap has been created largely because the Islanders star has been forced to miss more time due to injury than his Stars counterpart. Really, their numbers are eerily similar.
Tavares has scored 123 goals over the past four campaigns. Benn has scored 122. Tavares has 37 power play goals. Benn has 35. They both have roughly 880 shots and both shoot around 14 percent. And though Benn has suited up in 286 games to Tavares’ 267, both maintain the identical points per game rates at 1.01. That puts Tavares and Benn into a tie for fourth-best points per game over the past four seasons, ahead of the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Tyler Seguin, Steven Stamkos and Ryan Getzlaf.
The biggest statistical difference between Benn and Tavares is that Benn plays regularly when the Stars are down a man, whereas Tavares has averaged only five seconds of shorthanded ice time per game over the past four years. That said, Tavares has averaged almost a full minute more of ice time than Benn, so we’ll call it a push.
With the framework set by Benn’s contract, there’s a good chance the Islanders know where their talks with Tavares are heading. But it’s worth wondering if Tavares won’t end up costing the Islanders more than Benn costs the Stars. The very idea of Tavares being more “valuable” may make a Dallas fan’s head spin, but there are important things to consider about Tavares, the biggest of which is that Benn has been the best of a high-scoring bunch, whereas Tavares has been the undisputed top guy on an Islanders team that is devoid of the star power the Stars have.
Over the past three seasons, Benn is the Stars’ leading scorer by a scant 21 points, and that’s while having played 22 games more than linemate Seguin. Over that same period, Tavares is the Islanders’ leading scorer by 38 points. He’s played only nine games more than the next-highest scorer, Kyle Okposo.
That Tavares is a center, and one of the best at his job in the league, might also make the contract value shoot up about the $9.5 million annual average salary Benn is set to earn beginning in 2017-18.
No one will confuse Tavares with Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar or Jonathan Toews, but Tavares is sound defensively and drives play very well for New York. And with Toews and Kopitar both on deals that pay them $10 million or more per season, that might be where Tavares’ final cap figure ends up. None of this is to mention Tavares is a two-time Hart finalist, consistent 30-goal scorer and the Islanders’ leader on and off the ice.
So while Benn looked like he could be the league’s fourth player with a $10 million-plus cap hit, Tavares is the next in line for a big-money extension and he could very well be the fourth player to earn an eight-figure average salary. And whenever Tavares does sign on the dotted line, fans in Brooklyn will be thankful Ledecky was so willing to spend.
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