DALLAS — For the Islanders, nothing is bigger right now than news about John Tavares as their franchise player approaches unrestricted free agency.
So while it was quiet Saturday at American Airlines Center for the Islanders — they made five selections in rounds two through seven and president and general manager Lou Lamoriello left Texas without making a trade during the two-day NHL Draft — reports confirmed by Tavares’ agent, Pat Brisson, that he will meet with five undisclosed teams during the five-day negotiating window that begins on Monday created a buzz in the arena.
“I have no disappointment, no discouragement,” Lamoriello said. “I think he’s earned every right to make whatever choice he has. The most important thing is we hope the decision is to be an Islander.”
The free-agent market opens on July 1.
“There’s been a commitment from ownership, Scott Malkin, he wanted this franchise to be the best in the NHL and he gave me the authority to go out and do whatever is necessary to do that and the first decision was to get a coach,” Lamoriello said. “And, in my opinion, we got one of the best coaches in the NHL [Barry Trotz]. Now what we have to do is certainly convince our player that this is the right situation for him. But he has to make that decision.”
The news on Tavares cannot be seen as a surprise after he went the whole season without signing an extension. At this point, it makes good business sense to gauge the market.
At the same time, it should do nothing to dampen the optimism generated in the negotiations since Lamoriello was hired on May 22 and the Stanley Cup-winning Trotz was hired on Thursday after resigning from the Capitals in a salary impasse.
Money is not expected to be an issue. Tavares could earn as much as $11 million annually. Only the Islanders can offer Tavares an eight-year deal.
But what he must weigh as he listens to the other offers is whether the culture change and new direction Lamoriello and Trotz are trying to implement is a better option for him to essentially play out the bulk of his career here as compared to joining a new franchise.
It’s believed the Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights will be among the teams making pitches to Tavares.
Tavares insisted all season that he hoped it would work out with the Islanders, but it was clear there were concerns about the direction of the franchise, which has won one playoff series since 1993 and has missed the playoffs the past two seasons.
Plus, while the Islanders hope to open a new arena at Belmont Park in 2021, they are lacking a suitable home until then and will split games between the refurbished Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center this season.
By 2021, the Islanders certainly hope to have some of their prospects on their NHL roster.
Their top three picks on Saturday were defenseman Bode Wilde of the U.S. Under-18 squad at No. 41 in the second round, diminutive Russian center Ruslan Iskhakov at No. 43 and Czech goalie Jakub Skarek in the third round at No. 72.
The 6-2, 195-pound Wilde, who will bypass the NCAA to play Canadian junior hockey this season in the Ontario Hockey League, was considered a potential first-round pick.
“I was a little surprised,” Wilde said of slipping. “It is what it is. I’m excited. I think this is a great place for me.”
The Islanders’ development camp for this year’s draft choices and other organizational prospects will begin Monday at the team’s practice facility in East Meadow.