The New York Islanders have yet to get captain John Tavares' signature on a contract extension. He's eligible for unrestricted free agency next July and the 26-year-old center will attract considerable interest if he tests the open market.
Speculation over Tavares' future with the Islanders hasn't yet hit the same frenzied level as that of Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos last summer. The longer he remains without a new deal with the Isles, however, the more his name will surface in the trade rumor mill.
Last month, the Toronto Star's Damien Cox wondered if the Maple Leafs might make a play for the Mississauga native. But with the Leafs carrying a young superstar in Auston Matthews, a Tavares-to-Toronto scenario seems unlikely.
If Tavares isn't re-signed at some point in 2017-18, the New York Post's Larry Brooks envisions the Lightning packaging forwards Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat to get him. Failing that, he believes the Bolts could pursue Tavares via the free-agent market.
Anything's possible, but Brooks' trade scenario is a headscratcher. Johnson and Palat were key components in the Lightning's march to the 2015 Stanley Cup final. Both were recently re-signed to affordable long-term deals worth a combined annual cap hit of $10.3 million. It's apparent Lightning GM Steve Yzerman considers them invaluable core players.
Assuming Yzerman decides to swap Johnson and Palat for Tavares, the deal must take place before their respective no-trade clauses kick in next July 1. Moving the 25-year-old Palat could weaken the Lightning's depth at left wing. Shipping out Johnson, 26, means bidding farewell to one of their top postseason performers.
Trading those two would also be a salary-cap necessity. The Lightning currently have over $61 million invested in 15 players for 2018-19. Tavares could cost over $10-million annually, pushing their cap payroll for that season to over $71 million. That could complicate efforts to re-sign right winger Nikita Kucherov to a long-term extension. He carries a $4.7-million salary cap hit and will cost considerably more to re-sign in 2019.
It's far too early to envision potential trade scenarios for Tavares. He could re-sign with the Islanders later in the off-season. He and the Isles could play the waiting game to see how next season pans out before getting down to serious negotiations.
SHERO LOOKING TO IMPROVE DEVILS' 'D'
New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero's had a busy off-season bolstering his forward depth. He selected promising center Nico Hischier first overall in the draft and recently acquired winger Marcus Johansson from the Washington Capitals.
While those moves should improve the Devils' offense, the defense remains an area of concern. Last season, they gave up the 10th most shots-against per game (31.4). Their most experienced blueliners include Andy Greene, Ben Lovejoy, John Moore and Damon Severson. Without significant improvement, those shots-against numbers likely won't get any better.
CBS New York's Steve Lichtenstein reports Shero is “keenly aware” of the issue. Unless the Devils GM can swing a significant trade, Lichtenstein doubts an upgrade can be found.
The free agent pool is quite shallow now. Cody Franson is one option but Lichtenstein said the 29-year-old isn't on Shero's radar. Other notables include aging rearguards Mark Streit (39), Andrei Markov (38) and Francois Beauchemin (37).
If Shero wants to go the offer sheet route, he has over $19 million in salary-cap space to work with. Unfortunately, there aren't many pickings left among this summer's notable restricted free agents. Most of the better ones, such as Pittsburgh's Brian Dumoulin, Las Vegas' Nate Schmidt and the New York Islanders' Calvin de Haan, filed for arbitration and are ineligible to receive offer sheets.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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