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SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

John Tavares a priority for Islanders’ owners

John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders

John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders celebrates his third-period goal against the New York Rangers at Barclays Center on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 in Brooklyn. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

John Tavares’ highlight-reel goal on Thursday put him in the NHL spotlight as video of his ridiculous move around Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and shot past Jake Allen was played and replayed.

The lousy start to the Isles’ season prompted lots of opinion pieces about what would happen to Tavares, who will be a free agent after the 2017-18 season. Could a last-place team hope to keep their star and captain around?

The news of the last week may give some clue as to how that might happen.

That owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin are gathering information on and talking to numerous former players, agents and executives in a search for a “big-name” person to take over the team’s hockey operations, sources told Newsday last week, is certainly a step in the direction of assuring Tavares and other current and potential Islanders that the team is being proactive about the future.

“He certainly needs to know what direction the team is headed,” a source close to Tavares told Newsday last week.

That’s not to say Tavares has any input on such a decision. But given that both Ledecky and Malkin have had talks with Pat Brisson, Tavares’ high-powered agent, it’s certainly clear Tavares is a priority for the owners — even if Brisson doesn’t join the organization, a move that’s considered very much a long shot.

There’s also the matter of Cal Clutterbuck’s five-year, $17.5-million extension announced Friday. Clutterbuck and Tavares are close, having played together in juniors and Clutterbuck has risen to wear an ‘A’ as an alternate captain under Tavares’ captaincy this season.

“That’s the hope,” Clutterbuck told Newsday of Tavares signing beyond next season. “I don’t know. It’s a tough situation for him to be in — he’s basically the Steven Stamkos of this year, or next year if it comes to that. No one knows what his intentions are, only he really knows what’s going on. I just know he loves being here, he’s made a home here. I’ve got confidence there’s going to be an effort to keep him here and you just hope that he gets what he needs to get.”

Tavares gave Clutterbuck plenty of credit for building an important role on the Isles.

“Cal’s a tremendous influence in our room, on the ice, too,” Tavares said. “He brings a lot of things that are hard to find. He plays a very hard, in your face game and he brings it every night, which isn’t easy to do. He challenges everybody in the room from the leadership side and I think that’s been good for me and especially a lot of our young guys. For a guy who plays the way he’s asked to play on both sides of the puck, when you set that standard, it causes guys to follow his lead.”

Lastly on this list though perhaps not on Tavares’ have been the wins, two this week and five of the past six entering Saturday’s game here. The Islanders have a long way to go to be considered a playoff threat but pulling themselves back from the bottom of the Eastern Conference could restore some of Tavares’ faith in the organization.

It’s all speculative now, but there are certainly signs that point to the Isles doing what they can to make Tavares feel this is the right place to be long term.

New York Sports