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John Tavares Free Agency Watch: Past midnight

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The longer it goes on, the more it feels like...a bidding war

New Jersey Devils v New York Islanders
The answer is out there...
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

John Tavares received pitches from six teams between Monday and Wednesday of the free agent “discussion” week that precedes the July 1 kickoff when teams can actually iron out full contract terms.

He and representatives at CAA had all of Thursday, and Friday, to digest those pitches and narrow his list down. A week prior, he had reportedly been in focused negotiations with the New York Islanders, the only team that can offer eight years and full contract parameters before Sunday.

Yet Friday spilled into Saturday morning, and Saturday morning withered into the afternoon, and then evening, with insiders digging for any hint of what’s going on. The only consistent message: “no team eliminated yet.” Communication on-going. Don’t rule anything in or out.

With Tavares being the most sought-after free agent to hit the market since Steven Stamkos, it sure sounded like there’s a negotiation going on.

Not a “this place looks like a good fit.” Not a “well we’re still going over the pros and cons” (though that’s possible, Tavares is said to be methodical and thorough). But more like a “Hey, this team’s willing to go here for me. Think you can go here for me? How bad, exactly, do you want it?”

For whatever reason, last week and entering this week the conventional wisdom was that the Islanders were still in the lead for Tavares’ services. Maybe that was informed speculation. Maybe it was just conjecture since it was the one team he knew, versus five teams he didn’t.

Or maybe it was part of the CAA strategy to treat this discussion window like free agency itself, getting all of the competitors to bid against each other and against what the home team Islanders could offer. Certainly the NHLPA and agents side of the NHL’s power tug-of-war doesn’t often get an opportunity to get teams to push the salary ceiling upward like this.

Again, this itself is just conjecture trying to read the situation from the outside. Could be that Tavares has all his ideal options laid out in front of him, and he’s allowing life’s deadline to crystallize for him what he really wants out of this. [UPDATE: Nope. Midnight came and went.] The pull of finishing the journey on Long Island. The pull of home in hockey-mad Toronto, which hasn’t tasted the Cup since 1967. The pull of the west and the well-regarded Sharks organization, which has yet to win a Cup in its existence.

(And as long as we’re going unconventional? It’s not the most advantageous, but completely within his rights to forget about the Saturday night deadline for an eight-year deal from the Isles and enter the actual free agent window, where everyone has to put their money where their mouth is. Including, perhaps, the possibility of a one-year max deal from Toronto to raise the salary ceiling for all players, then go for an eight- (or seven-) year deal next summer.)

It’s fascinating to watch though; divorcing yourself from the agony — and immense boredom — of an Islanders fan watching this process play out drip by drip, it’s an interesting case of What Is It, That I Really Want? and How, Really, Can I Be Sure I’ll Get It Here?

If they ever provide access, the inside story of this process and negotiation will be one of legend.