The direction of the Islanders’ offseason free agent plan is about to become clear.
Plan A, for sure, is John Tavares, who now is taking time to digest, sort and ultimately decide on the offers in front of him.
Plan B, of course, is life without Tavares.
Tavares spent Monday through Wednesday in Los Angeles at the CAA office of agent Pat Brisson, reportedly meeting with representatives of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning and San Jose Sharks, in addition to the Islanders, as those organizations tried to woo him.
A league source indicated on Thursday there was no timetable for Tavares to make his decision but the clock is certainly ticking.
The NHL’s free agent market opens on Sunday following a five-day negotiation period.
The Islanders are the only team that can offer Tavares, the face of the franchise since he was selected first overall in 2009, an eight-year deal while the other teams are limited to seven-year offers. But that advantage expires on Sunday so it seems logical that if Tavares chooses to remain with the Islanders, he will agree to a deal before then.
The Islanders reportedly started the bidding with an eight-year, $88-million deal but the intense competition for his services means he may well receive a deal worth $12 million annually, if not more. The Islanders have an NHL-high $32.8 million in salary cap space, per CapFriendly.com.
If Tavares does reach the open market, he will become the highest-profile unrestricted free agent in NHL history.
The Islanders hired Stanley Cup-winning executive Lou Lamoriello as president on May 22 and brought in Barry Trotz, who lifted the Cup with the Washington Capitals on June 7, as their new coach on June 21. Former general manager Garth Snow, who risked losing Tavares without compensation when he declined to deal him by the Feb. 26 trade deadline, was relieved of duties on June 5 along with coach Doug Weight.
All those offseason moves were rightly perceived as the organization’s attempt to show Tavares he could win with the Islanders. Tavares has reached the playoffs just three times in nine seasons and the Islanders have won just one playoff series since 1993.
However, with or without Tavares, the Islanders have some definite offseason needs.
They allowed an NHL-worst 293 goals last season so acquiring a No. 1 goalie and shoring up their defense corps are musts.
Lamoriello has long proven himself an outside-the-box thinker during his tenure as the Devils president and general manager from 1987-2015 and as the Maple Leafs GM the past three seasons.
Still, it’s not a deep goaltending market so Lamoriello may well have to be creative.
The Senators are looking to trade No. 1 Craig Anderson, but he is 37, coming off a down season with a 3.32 goals-against average and an .898 save percentage and is starting a two-year extension with an annual cap hit of $4.75 million. Cam Ward, 34, who led the Carolina Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup in 2006, is an unrestricted free agent as is the St. Louis Blues’ Carter Hutton, 32, who outplayed starter Jake Allen last season but is unproven as a No. 1 goalie.
It’s also a thin market for defensemen and the top free agent, Mike Green, might re-sign with the Detroit Red Wings. Michal Kempny just re-signed with the Capitals.
And if Tavares departs, the Islanders must replace him as a No. 1 center.
Rookie Mathew Barzal, the Calder Trophy winner as the NHL’s top rookie, would be the internal candidate but Lamoriello could also target Winnipeg Jets’ UFA Paul Stastny or look to acquire the Buffalo Sabres’ Ryan O’Reilly.
Among the Islanders seven other UFAs — goalies Jaroslav Halak and Christopher Gibson, defensemen Thomas Hickey, Calvin de Haan and Dennis Seidenberg and forwards Chris Wagner and Nikolay Kulemin — Lamoriello may only try to re-sign de Haan.
Islanders’ free-agent needs
1. John Tavares — The Islanders are pushing hard to keep their franchise player off the free agent market
2. A No. 1 goalie — After allowing an NHL-worst 293 goals, the Islanders’ new brass knows that change must start in the net. Carter Hutton (Blues), Robin Lehner (Sabres), Jonathan Bernier (Avalanche) and Cam Ward (Hurricanes) are among the free agents and the Senators are looking to trade Craig Anderson
3. Defensemen — Mike Green (Red Wings), Michal Kempny (Capitals) and John Moore (Devils) highlight a thin crop, though the Islanders could try to re-sign Calvin de Haan