The silence is starting to become quite deafening.
There was no word from John Tavares’ camp Friday about whether the Islanders’ franchise player had made up his mind about his six reported suitors, including the Islanders, or whether the impending unrestricted free agent had eliminated any of them from consideration.
Because the free-agent market opens Sunday and the Islanders’ advantage of being able to offer an eight-year deal expires after Saturday, any delay in announcing that he will return to the franchise that selected him first overall in 2009 heightens the speculation that Tavares is preparing to leave.
But that’s pure speculation, of course. The Tavares camp has been practically devoid of leaks throughout the process.
“No clue of how to read this whole scenario,” NBC Sports analyst Pierre McGuire said in a text message to Newsday. “He is clearly being wise and looking at things carefully and thoroughly.”
Tavares reportedly met with representatives of the Islanders — including new president Lou Lamoriello and new coach Barry Trotz — Maple Leafs, Sharks, Bruins, Stars and Lightning at the Los Angeles CAA office of his agent, Pat Brisson, between Monday and Wednesday before flying back to his Toronto-area home Thursday.
If Tavares spurns the Islanders — who reportedly started the bidding with an eight-year, $88-million deal, though the intense competition for his services may push his annual salary-cap hit closer to $12 million or above — he will become the highest-profile UFA in NHL history.
Tavares’ decision is not being held up by money, but where he believes he’ll have the best chance to win. He has made the playoffs only three times with the Islanders, who have won just one playoff series since 1993.
A good comparison is Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos, a childhood teammate of Tavares.
As Stamkos neared being a UFA in 2016, there was endless media speculation that he would want to play for his hometown Maple Leafs. He wound up re-signing with the Lightning, getting an eight-year, $68-million deal. But he agreed to that deal two days before the free-agent market opened, which is why many around the NHL speculated that if Tavares were to re-sign with the Islanders, there was a good chance it would happen Friday.
Tavares maintained throughout last season that he hoped it would work out with the Islanders and asked former general manager Garth Snow not to deal him away as the Feb. 26 trade deadline neared.
At the same time, Tavares is an intensely private person who does not let many know which way he is leaning.
Tavares’ uncle, also named John Tavares, told Newsday’s Jim Baumbach via text on Thursday, “Your guess is as good as mine” regarding his nephew’s plans.
“I work out with him every day in the summer and he keeps his cards pretty close to his chest,” the Devils’ Taylor Hall said on WFAN on Friday. “I don’t even think his fiancee knows.”
While Tavares ponders his future, many of the league’s other marquee free agents have been put in a holding pattern.
“I think it’s holding up the hockey world a certain amount, for sure,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall told the media in Voorhees, New Jersey, on Friday.
For instance, the Jets’ Paul Stastny likely is a Plan B for teams that miss out on Tavares, or the Sabres’ Ryan O’Reilly might start drawing increased interest as a trade target.
Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk is expected to be one of the most sought-after UFAs, but his market has been slow to develop because of Tavares.
Isles sign two UFAs. The Islanders confirmed re-signing two impending UFAs, goalie Christopher Gibson, 25, who went 2-3-2 with a 3.65 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage in a late-season audition, and Bridgeport defenseman Seth Helgeson, 27. Both agreed to reported two-year, two-way deals counting $675,000 against the salary cap.