As the New York Islanders jockey for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, the future of captain John Tavares continues to draw attention in the NHL rumor mill.
Tavares, 26, becomes eligible in July 2018 for unrestricted free agency. As one of the league's elite players, he could command a long-term deal worth $10 million annually on his next contract.
TSN's Darren Dreger reports a decision between Tavares and the Islanders could be reached in June. If unable to reach agreement on a new contract, he wouldn't be shocked if the Isles consider trading their superstar, perhaps during the draft in Chicago.
Dreger points out he wasn't saying the trade scenario was more likely than a new contract. Depending upon the Isles performance over the remainder of this season, there could be considerable speculation over Tavares' status once the calendar turns to June.
The state of the Isles, rather than money, could prove the determining factor. Last summer's departures of core players Kyle Okposo, and Frans Nielsen proved a setback in the Isles development this season. Tavares could seek assurances from ownership and management that they're building toward a championship with him as the foundation.
Tavares has consistently said he wants to remain an Islander and wants to lead them to a championship. There's no reason to doubt his sincerity. However, if they fail to reach the 2017 playoffs or get bounced from the opening round, it'll provide more fuel to the media speculation over his future.
With a year remaining on his contract at an affordable $5.5-million cap hit and only an eight-team no-trade list, Tavares would attract considerable interest in the trade market if the Isles are willing to entertain offers. And the Isles would undoubtedly seek a huge return.
Even if the salary cap fails to significantly rise over its current $73-million for 2017-18, a number of clubs could be willing to acquire Tavares and quickly sign him to an expensive, long-term extension in July.
Prior to this year's trade deadline, rumors linked the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes to Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene. However, many of them could shift their attention toward Tavares if he ends up on the trade block.
The Islanders were also among the clubs said to be pursuing Duchene earlier this year. It's only natural to dream up a Duchene-for-Tavares swap between the two clubs. Such as move, however, wouldn't help the Avs' defensive weaknesses while Duchene's couldn't replace Tavares' offense and leadership on the Isles.
Clubs in need of scoring punch, such as the Arizona Coyotes, Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks, could also come calling. The Toronto Maple Leafs are inevitably mentioned whenever questions over Tavares' future with the Isles spring up. However, the emergence of Auston Matthews as a budding superstar and Nazem Kadri's development into a solid two-way pivot should eliminate the Leafs as a possible destination for Tavares via trade or free agency in 2018.
AVS SHOULD SEEK GOALTENDER
All of this season's Avalanche trade rumors focused upon the club's need to bolster their defense corps. Should they decide to trade Duchene or left winger Gabriel Landeskog, a good young NHL-ready blueliner is considered the necessary centerpiece of the Avs' asking price.
The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch, however, recently suggested the Avs instead use Duchene to find a new starting goaltender. He noted current starter Semyon Varlamov isn't getting the job done.
A Vezina Trophy finalist in 2014, the 28-year-old's performance significantly declined over the last three seasons. Nagging groin injuries largely contributed to his struggles, sidelining him for lengthy periods. His 2016-17 campaign was ended by hip surgery in January.
Garrioch anticipated the expansion draft in June will result in plenty of goaltenders becoming available. Teams can only protect one netminder, which could result in several hitting the trade block by late-June.
Trade possibilities could include the Pittsburgh Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury. However, he carries a modified no-trade clause and might not have the Avalanche on his list of preferred destinations.
Better options could include the New York Rangers' Antti Raanta and the Washington Capitals' Philipp Grubauer. Both are restricted free agents and would be far more affordable than Fleury and his $5.75-million annual cap hit through 2018-19.
If a suitable goalie isn't available via the trade market, the Avs could find some good options via free agency. Ben Bishop of the Los Angeles Kings and Brian Elliott of the Calgary Flames are the most experienced and also the most expensive. Affordable choices could include the Chicago Blackhawks' Scott Darling or the Anaheim Ducks' Jonathan Bernier.
Complicating this scenario, however, is Varlamov's contract. He's got two seasons left at an annual cap hit of $5.9 million. They've also got Calvin Pickard under contract for 2017-18 for $1 million. Adding another goalie means moving Varlamov or Pickard to avoid a logjam between the pipes.
Pickard could be easiest to trade, but the Avs would be left with two expensive veterans jockeying for playing time. Varlamov lacks a no-trade clause but it's unlikely the Avs will find any takers. If left unprotected in the expansion draft, the Vegas Golden Knights will probably pass.
Factor in Varlamov's long injury history, and the Avs could be stuck with him for at least another season. They could try buying him out in June, but because of his season-ending surgery, he probably won't be fully recovered to qualify.
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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