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SportsColumnistsAndrew Gross

It doesn’t have to be a disaster for Islanders if John Tavares leaves

Islanders center John Tavares skates against the Rangers

Islanders center John Tavares skates against the Rangers in the second period of a hockey game at Barclays Center on April 5. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Everything the Islanders have done so far this offseason has been an effort to show John Tavares his first NHL home remains his best option for future success and happiness.

Therefore, if Tavares opts to take his talents elsewhere, say to a ready-made winner in the San Jose Sharks or to his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, this offseason would have to be considered an unmitigated disaster, right?

Right?

Well, it certainly wouldn’t be good, that’s for sure.

Tavares, who had a limited no-trade clause and a no-movement clause, said publicly prior to the Feb. 26 trade deadline he did not want to be dealt and the Islanders listened. Tavares also maintained all season he hoped it would work out between him and the Islanders.

Yet there’s no doubt losing him without compensation would be a blow to the organization and the Islanders would have a huge hole in their lineup and in their off-ice leadership without their No. 1 center and captain.

Still, while Tavares’ departure would represent a seismic shift in the organization’s foundation, calling it an unmitigated disaster may be Chicken Little claiming the sky is falling.

For one, the threat of Tavares leaving finally shook the Islanders’ co-owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky into addressing long-standing management problems.

Hiring Lou Lamoriello as president — in reality, the organization’s absolute authority for all hockey matters — brought a credibility to the Islanders that has been lacking since the days of Bill Torrey and Al Arbour.

Lamoriello forces an accountability into the organization — to all personnel on and off the ice — that was sorely lacking.

Lamoriello’s hiring of Barry Trotz, who won the Stanley Cup with the Capitals on June 7 and then resigned because of a salary impasse, gives the team its best coach since Peter Laviolette in 2001-03.

Lamoriello will continue to make over (strengthen) the front-office staff and Trotz will do the same with his coaching staff.

Let’s be real, if Tavares does shun a longer-term contract with the Islanders and, presumably, more money to continue his career elsewhere, the odds are he was leaning that way before Lamoriello came aboard.

Which means the Islanders really misread the situation all last season.

There’s one other eventuality to consider here.

Again, there is no denying Tavares’ immense worth to the Islanders. He truly is one of the NHL’s elite players and, if possible, underrated for all his tremendous skill.

But that is now.

Tavares turns 28 on Sept. 20, before next season begins.

If he re-signs with the Islanders, it will be for eight seasons and, the expectation is, wherever he signs, Tavares will count upwards of $12 million against the salary cap.

The ugly truth to the NHL is that it becomes a younger and younger man’s game each and every season.

As one NHL agent opined, “32 is the new 37.”

It’s hard to imagine Tavares ever not being a productive hockey player.

But it’s not hard to imagine Tavares’ output decreasing toward the back end of his new deal.

In a salary-cap world, a mega-contract unfortunately has the potential to become a mega-albatross.

Per CapFriendly.com, the Islanders have an NHL-high $32.8 million in salary cap space.

If Tavares is not re-signed, Lamoriello will still have plenty of flexibility to make roster additions.

No, he’s not going to bring in another player of Tavares’ talents.

But Lamoriello has shown he understands how to build a team and a crafty veteran such as him is not approaching free agency without a contingency plan.

Tavares’ departure would also make Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal the team’s de facto star. Who’s to say he won’t live up to the expanded role.

Still, no doubt, the best option for the Islanders is for Tavares to stay.

But it doesn’t have to mean the world is ending if he doesn’t.

New York Sports

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