DALLAS – All the New York Islanders can really do now is wait and hope for the best. They’ve made the requisite mind-boggling offer, changed their GM and coach, had a heck of a draft and are putting the pieces in place for a new arena in an effort to retain their franchise player. And they have to hope that’s enough to dissuade John Tavares from doing more than just flirting with the five teams he’ll meet Monday during the free-agency courting period.
And years of will-he-or-won’t-he speculation will come down to what Tavares does in the next seven days. The sentiment is that deep down he wants to stay in Long Island and he now knows that if he does, there is an eight-year, $88-million contract waiting for his signature. But he also has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear how much other teams want him, too, which is why he elected to meet with the Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning and Los Angeles Kings at his agent’s Los Angeles office this week.
This is not ideal news for the Islanders, but new GM Lou Lamoriello, who has pushed an awful lot of the right buttons since arriving there two weeks ago, can feel confident he has done everything in his power, perhaps with the exception of getting a reliable No. 1 goalie, to keep Tavares from leaving.
“I expected this,” said Lamoriello after Day 2 of the draft wrapped up on Saturday. “He has earned the right to do this and the most important thing is the end result. Hopefully, he continues to be an Islander.”
It was the feeling among most draft observers that the Islanders did very well this weekend. They had the 11th and 12th picks and got winger Oliver Wahlstrom from the U.S. national development team and defenseman Noah Dobson from the Memorial Cup-champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan, two players who were projected to go higher than they did. That good work continued on the weekend when they got defenseman Bode Wilde, a projected first-rounder who will either play in the OHL or AHL next season instead of U.S. college, and Czech goalie Jakub Skarek. And Lamoriello was quick to get Barry Trotz under contract for five years when he resigned from the Washington Capitals after winning the Stanley Cup.
There is absolutely no doubt that Lamoriello will change the losing and almost defeatist culture that has plagued the Islanders in recently years fairly quickly. And having Trotz behind the bench gives them instant credibility. The new building is at least a few years away, but the Islanders will split games this season between the newly refurbished Nassau Coliseum and the Barclays Center. (It probably also didn’t hurt that teammate Mathew Barzal was officially recognized as the NHL’s top rookie when he took home the Calder Trophy last week.)
So things are starting to come together for a franchise that for years couldn’t seem to get out of its own way. Lamoriello was asked whether he thinks that’s enough for Tavares to get the message that there is a bright future for him as an Islander.
“I think that’s a question you’d have to ask him,” Lamoriello said. “But I think that what we’ve tried to do…there’s been a commitment shown from ownership, Scott Malkin, that he wanted this franchise to be the best in the National Hockey League and he gave me the authority to go out and do whatever is necessary to do that. The first decision was to get a coach and in my opinion, we got one of the best coaches in the National Hockey League. Now what we have to do is convince our player that this is the right situation for him. But he has to make that decision.”
In reality, though, the future in Long Island looks a lot better than it did even just a couple of weeks ago regardless of what Tavares decides. It would undoubtedly be a setback if he were to leave, but the pieces are in place for the Islanders to grow as a franchise and eventually become a contender. There’s no reason to think that losing Tavares would be the end of the world.
“As far as what transpired over the last two days, I don’t think we could be more pleased,” Lamoriello said. “I think the type of players we got…and some players are close. They’re not far away in areas that we need. Saying that, it’s a positive day for the franchise.”
The teams meeting Tavares will technically not be able to negotiate or discuss money or term of a contract, but they do go into this process armed with the knowledge of what the Islanders are offering. But that’s actually secondary. Tavares was always going to get his money. And since they can offer only seven-year deals, they’d have to offer Tavares $12.6 million per year to equal the entire value of the eight-year deal the Islanders have on the table.