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Your Post-Christmas John Tavares Free Agency Encyclopedia update

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Big arena, gut feelings and lots of hot air about every Islanders fan’s least favorite subject.

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The John Tavares Free Agency Encyclopedia has been an ongoing project at Lighthouse Hockey since the summer of 2016. Volume I ended this summer after almost 25,000 words on the subject. Volume II began this season, and the most recently updated version can always be found on our front page right below the current articles of the week.

With the Islanders having a busy last week, in which they announced plans to build a new arena, which itself brought up new Tavares questions, as well as a three-day holiday break, I felt it was a good idea to break the latest update into its own article. Volume II is up over 12,000 words already so if you haven’t been following along (and I don’t blame you if you haven’t), you can catch up here.

December 26, 2017 Last week was a busy one for both the Islanders and the chronicler in charge of this document. So here’s one large update encompassing everything (or, at least, as much as possible).

On Wednesday the 20th, the Islanders were officially awarded the rights to be build a one billion dollar arena complex on the site of Belmont Park. A lot can and will be written about this latest (and, frankly, best) chance at getting a brand new building of their own, but we’ll focus on its effect on the Islanders re-signing John Tavares.

The captain was on hand for the announcement at the race track, sitting next to New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who himself was sitting next to Long Island music institution Billy Joel, who himself was sitting next to Islanders winger Cal Clutterbuck. Tavares wasn’t running around the place with a pen looking to sign an extension, like a lot of us had hoped. Instead, he spoke about how meaningful the move back to Long Island proper would be to the organization and how it’s one more thing for him to consider when then time is right to think about his next contract.

Via Newsday:

“As time goes on and you take time to think about things, look at the big picture, it’s very positive for the organization, for us, for the fans,” Tavares said after the news conference at Belmont Park. “For my situation it’s really exciting news. I’m not going to say it’s going to change or ultimately make my decision, but everything that’s involved in my daily life plays into it and going to the rink, playing games is a big part of that.”

...

“We’ll continue the way things have been going, keeping the communication open and taking it one day at a time,” he said. “A lot of focus on the ice, on getting us to the playoffs. I’ve always stated how much I enjoy being here, playing here and wanting it to work out here.”

Islanders owner Jon Ledecky, who’s a bundle of energy in most situations but who was practically iridescent all week, told WFAN’s Joe and Evan that his goal to make Tavares an Islander for life:

“If John Tavares thinks he can win the Stanley Cup with the New York Islanders, he’s going to re-sign,” Ledecky said. “We’re trying to provide him with every reason to do so — beautiful new practice facility, moving the team back to Long Island, re-embracing our fans on Long Island . . . John’s going to make up his mind on his timetable and the last thing I’m going to do as a co-owner of the New York Islanders is put any pressure on my great player.”

Okay, so nothing out of the ordinary, right? Big announcement, measured player response, confident owner response. Pretty much what you’d expect.

Then a funny thing happened.

The general feeling from around the hockey world was that the Belmont announcement was a good thing for the Islanders. In his 31 Thoughts column, Elliotte Friedman led with the news and called it a “massive victory” for the franchise. He quoted a rival GM saying that it didn’t exactly help his team’s chances of having a shot at signing Tavares after the season. He reiterated those thoughts in a video segment on NHL Network, saying that Belmont certainly wouldn’t hurt Tavares’s chances of re-signing.

A busy week for the Islanders means a busy week for Arthur Staple, who appeared on a bunch of podcasts and radio shows talking about Belmont and Tavares. He echoed the “certainly can’t hurt” idea on Don’t Ask Me Why with former Islanders beatwriter Stephen Lorenzo and said the arena announcement would probably tick things a few percentage points closer in the direction of him staying. On The Pulp Hockey Show, co-hosted by Islanders legend with Ray Ferraro, Staple mentioned that Tavares wants to keep his focus on the ice and might make his decision an “after the season thing.” Staple’s feeling is that Tavares wants the most consideration time as possible, which could mean getting to the point of hearing other offers, which will stress fans out. None of that is out of line from what we’ve heard and read so far.

And yet, somehow, when some of Friedman’s insider colleagues discussed the Belmont news with other outlets, a different feeling emerged. Darren Dreger went from “that bodes well for Tavares potentially staying there long term” just at the time the news was breaking to saying “maybe Tavares would be okay being No. 2 center for the Toronto Maple Leafs” to millions of listeners and three astonished hosts on Leafs Lunch. On TSN’s Overdrive radio show on the same day, Dreger said his feeling is that, “I think that Tavares would like to play for the Montreal Canadiens.”

Oh. This, too:

Now, before you grab your torches and head to Dreger’s famous backyard rink, he was clear that he still believes Tavares will most likely stay with the Islanders. But Dreger is also a person that’s done literally a million radio hits in his career. He knows what’s going to get people talking. And pulling Canada’s top two markets into a conversation about Tavares - on a day in which his team’s future took a giant leap towards finally being settled - comes of as desperate at best and dangerously irresponsible at worst.

Even Bob McKenzie, the longest-serving and most trusted hockey insider on the planet, cut loose a little, openly wondering if Tavares and linemate Josh Bailey, who are both among the league leaders in scoring and both free agents after this season, wouldn’t package themselves as a duo a ‘la Zach Parise and Ryan Suter did when they signed with the Wild.

Like Dreger, McKenzie doesn’t come out and say that the Islanders are boned. In fact, he says “The enormous potential for the Islanders to re-sign these guys and have two front-line players on your first line like that along with Anders Lee, that’s fantastic.” But still, it’s an interesting tack to take given the much bigger news of the week.

But a few days later, on Saturday night, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos basically did come out and say that the Islanders are boned. During the intermission-based-based “Headlines” segment, Kypreos reported that no contracts talks have occurred and none are coming in the forseeable future, which, if you’re an Islanders fan, should be seen as bad news. Yes, he used the specific phrase “bad news.” Whether or not Kypreos realizes that no talks have happened all season so far, isn’t clear.

Kypreos also says that “the real feeling now” is that Tavares may wait until the end of the season to see what other offers are out there. The bit starts at 3:15.

At the other end of the same table, Friedman re-reiterated that winning games with young talent - which the Islanders have done for the most part this season - could still be the best thing for them in terms of re-signing Tavares. Boston based writer/rumor monger Jimmy Murphy then threw his two cents into the conversation a little while later on Twitter.

Murphy doesn’t want to say it, but I will: I do doubt Kypreos and his sources the same way I doubt Darren Dreger and his gut.

My feelings on Tavares signing and re-signing change with the weather. But one thing I don’t doubt is that Tavares’s focus has and always will be on playing hockey. I’m only half joking when I say he’s really a Cyberdyne Systems T-800 model Terminator. This man’s life is playing hockey and getting consistently better at it. It has been since he was a child and it’s taken him from being an exception junior player, to a No. 1 overall pick, to a two-time Hart Trophy finalist and to being one of the very best players in the world.

I don’t like that he hasn’t had any discussions yet any more than any other Islanders fans do, but I have not for a moment doubted Tavares’s sincerity in wanting all of his energy and brain power working on the ice, not on a new contract. That might be naive on my part, but based on what I’ve known about this man as a fan and what I’ve observed about him since he was 18 years old, I’m going with that until proven otherwise.

I’ll also take the word of Tavares’s friend Steven Stamkos from an interview he did with Pierre LeBrun for The Athletic just prior to all of the Belmont stuff happening. Emphasis and editing mine:

Now that the [unrestricted free agency] shoe is on the other foot and you’re watching Tavares go through the year here, what are your observations? Obviously, a big decision ahead of him.

STAMKOS: Yeah it’s definitely a big decision and a decision that he’s earned every right to make on his own time and on his own terms. He’s such a smart guy and has such a great supporting cast with his family and friends, I’m sure very similar to mine; it’s just been impressive how well he’s played and how well he’s dealt with the so-called distraction of going through a contract year. Especially for such a high-profile player and playing in New York. It wasn’t easy for me. I have no regrets in how I made my decision. But when you’re going through that, it’s definitely in the back of your mind and it weighs on you a little bit. But it just looks like he’s going out and playing hockey, having fun, and playing extremely well. It’s been impressive for me to see. Because I know exactly how he’s feeling. He’s done a great job of leaving that stuff at home and coming to the rink and playing hockey.

And that continues, even as the franchise comes very close to getting a new rink for him to come to everyday for the next eight years.