John Tavares says watching the NHL playoffs during the next couple of months is going to be “tough,” given how close the Islanders came to qualifying for a third season in a row.
But for Islanders fans, the tough part might be watching a deep run by the Maple Leafs, who last won the Stanley Cup when the Original Six were the Only Six.
That sort of excitement surrounding Tavares’ hometown team might be difficult for him to ignore this summer as he weighs whether to sign beyond next season. Does he want to have the chance to be a national hero in Canada or the chance to be less famous than Jeremy Lin in Brooklyn?
Not that the Maple Leafs are the only potential landing spot for the Islanders’ captain, even if fans and journalists in Toronto have been pining for that more or less since the day Tavares showed up on Long Island in 2009.
Many marquee franchises would love to have a still-only-26-year-old with world-class skills and the kind of no-drama, face-of-the-franchise vibe perfected around here by Derek Jeter, David Wright, Eli Manning and Tavares’ Rangers counterpart, Henrik Lundqvist.
That is exactly why the Islanders cannot let him go — assuming he is sincere in his wish to find reasons to stay.
Tavares was careful, as usual, when asked about all this Monday as the Islanders held exit meetings and went their separate ways. He insisted he likes it here but acknowledged there will be much to discuss in the coming weeks.
“I think it’s a lot more complicated process than probably people realize,” he said. Then he referred to “a lot of situations that have kind of come over the last couple of years.”
Yes, situations do tend to come with the Islanders, including uncertainty about the ice at their current arena, whether there might be a different arena in the near future, whether their popular interim coach is even interested in staying in that role and whether a person to be named will be calling the hockey shots.
Tavares said he will have questions for management, including getting “an understanding of their vision and where things are going.”
But Tavares being Tavares, he made it clear that such discussions will be “handled internally” because doing so publicly “wouldn’t be great for the process.”
Two things he was willing to state unequivocally: He would like to have coach Doug Weight back and, again, he really, truly likes it here.
“Obviously, you want to enjoy where you’re playing and where you’re living,” he said. “I’ve always stated that I’ve enjoyed those things and I’ve always been treated really well here. So there’s no doubt about that for me.”
To be clear: Tavares is not scheduled to be a free agent this offseason. But his contract expires after 2017-18, and if he does not sign an extension this summer, a signal will have been sent and there will be pressure to trade him — to the Leafs or any other outfit eager enough to have him to pay fair value.
The onus is on ownership, because it shouldn’t need much convincing to know that Tavares is the kind of cornerstone every team should want.
The convincing more likely will be on Tavares’ end, even if he can sign a slightly longer deal with the Islanders than with another team. He made no promises Monday. But there is plenty of time to sort things out, starting with Weight’s status.
“I don’t think my situation has to be rushed or be taken care of tomorrow,” he said. “I think it’s good to take some time and decompress a little bit and go from there.”
In the meantime, he can sit back and enjoy some playoff-caliber hockey and wonder what might have been for these Islanders and what might be in the future — here or elsewhere.
“I think for me at the end of the day, I want to win a Stanley Cup, so I think everyone here is absolutely committed to doing that,” he said. “Hopefully we can work something out and I’m here.”