John Tavares is not worried about his contract situation.
Training camp begins in less than a month, but the Islanders’ captain and star player said the fact that he’s prepared to enter this season, the last under his current deal, without an extension is not causing him to lose any sleep.
“For me, there’s really no rush,” Tavares told Newsday in a phone interview Wednesday morning. “I’m trying to determine things, let the process run its course, keep the lines of communication open, keep it all internal and it’s been good so far . . . In terms of signing a new contract, there’s a lot that goes into it. To really dive into all the details, get into all the conversations I’ve had with Garth [Snow], the team and Doug [Weight], I don’t think it’s productive to the situation and the negotiating. I prefer to keep it all internal, that’s the best way to keep it all open, honest and healthy.”
Tavares was eligible to sign a new deal on July 1, but it was clear before then that he was going to wait and see how any number of unclear situations played out with the team.
Tavares said he is waiting to see what comes of the Request For Proposals issued July 30 by New York state regarding the Belmont Park development. The Islanders, along with the owners of the Mets and a Madison Square Garden-backed sports arena consortium Oak View Group, are expected to pitch building an arena on the 43-acre lot.
It’s not clear whether the state will select a winner before Tavares would hit unrestricted free agency next July. All bids are due by Sept. 28 and Empire State Development, the state’s primary business development agency which is handling the RFP, has declined to set a timeline after that.
Of course for Tavares, with an eight-year deal in the offing, he would love to know where he’ll be playing.
“The possibility with Belmont and that RFP coming out, there’s great potential there,” Tavares said. “We’ll see where it goes. A lot of those things are out of my hands. Some things I don’t try to worry about them too, too much. I’m just a hockey player. I try to be as best prepared as I can be. It’s a big decision obviously because it’s eight years of my career, really entering into my prime years and a great opportunity for myself to achieve what I set out to achieve when I was a kid, making it to the NHL, wanting to win a Stanley Cup and wanting to do that with the Islanders.”
Tavares said he knows the questions will keep coming the longer a contract stays unsigned, but doesn’t see it as a distraction.
“It’s only a distraction if you let it become a distraction,” he said. “It’s not something that every single day I stress and worry about. I’m trying to just be myself, prepare for the season like any other season. Try to be the best captain I can be, the best player I can be for the Islanders and be the best teammate I can be. I think everybody knows me pretty well, how I approach things. I think some of that comes from the media standpoint and I understand why the questions get asked. But at the same time all I can control, and all we can control as a team, is how we approach every day and how we can get better and achieve our ultimate goal.
“Everyone’s circumstances are different, everyone’s situation is different. I think the year [Steven] Stamkos re-signed, [Tampa] was a game away from the Finals. So that was a team that didn’t let that situation affect them, nor do I think it should. For me, it’s just focusing on being a hockey player and the way I’ve approached every season.”
Stamkos flirted with several other teams before re-signing with the Lightning the day before he hit free agency last summer.
The Islanders missed the playoffs last season for the fifth time in Tavares’ eight years with the team. Snow traded for Jordan Eberle, an old friend of Tavares’, and dealt away Ryan Strome in that deal, and traded Travis Hamonic to the Flames for draft picks.
“It’s a lot of mixed feelings,” Tavares said of the trades. “I think everyone knows my relationship with Ryan, from when we drafted him, knowing him even before then, living together for two years, training together quite a bit in the offseason — he’s like a little brother. He was great for me, too. He’s a fun person to be around, always kept things loose, which was always good for me. I know there’s been some ups and downs, but he’s still young and still growing with his game. With Ryan’s potential we were able to acquire someone as accomplished as Jordan, who’s put up great numbers in this league, had a lot of success internationally. Having a guy like him, especially a right-hand shot, he can be really effective for us, especially on the power play. He’s going to be a great asset for our team.
“Travis is a tremendous person first and foremost. He’s got tremendous values, deep connections to his roots that mean a lot to him and what he’s been through in his life. First and foremost, I’ve got a lot of respect for him there just as a human being. And he’s a very good player, had some great seasons with us and guys like that are hard to find. To play those all-around minutes and the way he played, you don’t find guys like that too often.”
While Tavares waits to see what happens on many fronts with the Islanders, he didn’t hesitate when asked if he feels the Islanders are legitimate Cup contenders now.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “We missed the playoffs by a point after a poor start. We were about as resilient as we could’ve been — there’s not much reward for that, but I think just knowing the group we have, even after losing some good players and strong personalities that were there a long time, that we have a lot of talent and a lot of character.
“We’re right there. We’ve just got to find a way to get over the hump, figure out what it takes on a daily basis. For sure, I believe we’re a contender.”