John Tavares hasn’t yet joined the group of Islanders participating in an informal skate most mornings at Northwell Health Ice Center, but the Isles captain and his “will he or won’t he?” contract situation was asked of a few of Tavares’ teammates.
And that will be a hot topic in the Islanders’ room from the moment training camp opens on Sept. 14 when the players report for physicals. Tavares has deferred the chance to sign an extension since the summer, choosing to play out the final year of his current contract while seeing what comes of the organization’s bid for a new arena and its bid to get back to the playoffs in 2017-18.
That could become a distraction for Tavares and his teammates, who may tire of being asked which way the wind blows on a given day as the season goes along. On Tuesday, however, after a dozen or so Isles skated, all who were asked said it won’t be an issue.
“Knowing how Johnny deals with things, his personality, I think that’s what makes it a non-factor,” Andrew Ladd said. “He’s so good at handling, whether it’s the questions or the talk that comes with it, I don’t see it being an issue. I think we know more in here than everybody else on the outside, so we’re comfortable with where it’s at.”
Cal Clutterbuck has been friends with Tavares since they were Canadian junior teammates as teenagers in Oshawa. He doesn’t pretend to know what his friend and captain will decide, but Clutterbuck said there’s one sure way to keep the questions at bay once the season starts.
“If we can take care of what we need to on the ice, as far as being successful, winning games, it’s not something you worry about,” Clutterbuck said. “It’s only something to worry about if the team really doesn’t do well at the start. I don’t think that’s going to be the case. We’re going to be well prepared, we’re going to be a good team from the start. We’re going to be the same team we were the second half of last year, if not better than that. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for us.”
Tavares told Newsday on Aug. 16 that he’s not concerned about the contract situation or the possibility that endless questions regarding it will distract him. Josh Bailey has been Tavares’ teammate for all eight of the captain’s NHL seasons and Bailey has the same level of certainty.
“It’s really easy for us, it doesn’t change anything,” Bailey said. “He’s got another year left on his deal, for some reason it seemed like some kind of time limit on it around July 1. It’s something to talk about for everyone else and it changes nothing in our room.”
Clutterbuck did say he understands one important thing about Tavares that helps him stave off the anxious thoughts that are definitely plaguing some Islanders fans.
“He’s answering the questions pretty professionally, but what I do know about him is that he loves it here, he loves playing with the guys he’s playing with and a lot of us have some comfort in that,” Clutterbuck said. “We’ll see how it goes. Not worrying about it right now.”