Following the “will he, won’t he?” winds for the New York Islanders’ goal of signing John Tavares to a new contract has been easily a yearlong job, one warranting a 15,000-word chronicle of all of the media trying to hint or get a hint, or just plain talk out their stick butt about which way it’s headed.
Now with July 1, 2017 — the earliest date Tavares can legally sign an extension — upon us, we can set some expectations about where the franchise center is as he enters the final year of his contract.
While the Islanders would love to put this to bed once and for all, and while Tavares has stated several times he doesn’t want it to drag on, there are no signs that something will be finalized and announced on July 1.
However, that doesn’t mean Islanders fans should panic. Here are the generally “think we know” almost-knowns:
Tavares Prefers to Stay with the Islanders
While this is ultimately conjecture — or at least taking literally everything he has ever said about this situation at face value — it’s pretty clear that Tavares’ ideal is to rise to Stanley Cup glory with the team that drafted him.
He wants to (re)define a once-historic franchise, and he wants that franchise to make that a realistic goal.
He wants to be that all-too-rare legend whose career is associated with one franchise, a franchise he led to a championship.
...Which Means He Wants a Good Team Around Him
The Isles improved on ice under Doug Weight, a coach Tavares and the players like and responded to. Weight has brought in new bench staff. General manager Garth Snow acquired Jordan Eberle for his wing. The on-ice stuff appears headed in the right direction, at least in terms of how the Tavares camp would see it.
They have pushed hard to add fellow Class of 2009 top pick Matt Duchene, a move that now looks less likely, but the message is clear: The Islanders ownership and Garth Snow are trying to swing big this summer.
Perhaps the best description of the situation came from the always erudite Weight, in an interview with Brian Compton at nhl.com:
"I would just say don't panic," Weight said. "You come to this situation maybe twice in your career if you have a long career that works out where you're really in control of the situation. John wants to win Stanley Cups. He wants to be a Hall of Fame player. He wants to do it as an Islander. I would want nothing more, as our organization, than to see him lift the Stanley Cup with the 'C' on his chest with the New York Islander logo. It's where he belongs.
"Make no mistake, John loves it here. I'll speak for him, I don't mind. But he's earned the right to come and make a decision, an intelligent decision. He's a thinker. He's not a PR guy that wants to drag it out. But he's going to do what he sees fit. I believe we have an unbelievable opportunity to sign John. We have things to prove to him. But it's not going to affect our hockey club. I hope to sign him on July 1, but if it doesn't happen, I'm not changing my mindset or anything of that nature, and neither is he. That's the most refreshing thing.
The Price Has Gone Up (Thanks, Connor!)
Connor McDavid’s expected extension with the Edmonton Oilers has raised the bar. The previous high-mark on annual salaries was the $10.5 million that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane each signed with the Blackhawks.
Remember that’s on a team with two stars seen of equal value. McDavid has already become arguably the best or second-best player in the league, and he’s expected to get a cap hit around $13.25 million on his next deal, which can be signed on July 1.
So hopes of getting Tavares, who signed a team-friendly $5.5 million per in his first post-ELC deal, in under $10 million, are fantasy. This is going to be an over $10 million-per-year deal — so instead of $80 million total, something approaching $100 million.
That’s a lot for owners that just shelled out for the team and may now have to shell out for a new building.
The hope is the NHL’s salary cap continues to rise, even if just marginally, so that Tavares’ new deal eats up a relatively smaller percentage of the Islanders’ cap. And perhaps they can trade maximum no-trade protection for some of that annual value: No doubt Tavares would like the right to determine his future if the Islanders’ arena situation goes south.
Speaking of which...
Tavares Wants to Feel Assured about the Franchise’s Future
While this thought has typically revolved around the Islanders being a contender with full investment from ownership, as referenced above, there is another issue now more at play here: Literally, where the team will be playing for the bulk of what would be an eight-year Tavares’ extension.
Without rehashing all of the venue details, both the Islanders and the flawed-for-hockey Barclays Center can opt out of their “iron clad” (Charles Wang’s words) lease next year. The key facts, per a Newsday report this spring, are:
- The arena has triggered the lease renegotiation window, which lasts until Jan. 1, 2018, or else either side can deliver notice to opt out by Jan. 30, 2018.
- If the Islanders opt out, they can choose to leave at the end of next season or the end of the 2018-19 season. If Barclays triggers the opt-out, the team would have to leave after the 2018-19 season.
So there is a game of chicken here that doesn’t involve Tavares, but impacts Tavares. The Islanders want an arena to themselves, or else much better conditions at Barclays. Barclays isn’t getting what it wants out of the Isles — not enough additional revenue to meet their outlay in the lease — but would likely retain the tenant at a reduced rate.
The logical solution here is for both sides to renegotiate the lease for a term that bridges the Isles to a new arena while making the tenant profitable for Barclays. Whether they get to that point probably depends on if the Isles have clarity by January...
That Future is up in the Air this Summer
Once again, like Groundhog Day, we have multiple bodies and political machinations affecting the prospects of a new arena the Isles can call home. The next step comes July 10, per a June 20 Newsday report:
State legislators will host a public hearing in Elmont next month on plans to redevelop Belmont Park, including a possible new arena for the New York Islanders.
The July 10 hearing at the Elmont Public Library will be the only opportunity for members of the public to weigh in on the project before Empire State Development, the state’s primary business development agency, issues a Request For Proposals to develop the state-run property.
June 20 won’t settle anything, but it’s another step in the process. And for Tavares, there’s no need to rush.
A league source told Newsday that Tavares, who is entering the final year of his contract, has indicated he is willing to wait on signing an extension and feels more confident in the direction the Islanders are headed.
When the season ended, it was believed Snow needed to get Tavares’ signature on an extension by July 1 or risk losing the team’s star and captain for nothing when his deal is up after next season. The Isles would also have likely entertained trading Tavares in the coming weeks in that scenario, had Tavares said he wasn’t interested in signing long-term.
Now, he appears willing to wait and possibly head into the final year of his deal without an extension, though not to bolster his chances of leaving the team.
That’s consistent with what other national NHL insiders have been suggesting in the week since. While there appears to be a lot of local hope for Belmont working out, there are a lot of steps before that, including what kind of arrangement the Isles would have in Brooklyn or elsewhere until an arena were built and opened in the second half of Tavares’ new contract.
For Tavares — whose season ended with a skating injury on the Barclays Center ice — there’s no need to rush until, to paraphrase Lebowski, new Hunter has come to light, man.
So the (expected) absence of Tavares news on July 1 shouldn’t ruin your weekend. There will be plenty of time to panic later, if need be.