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John Tavares’ decision remains a mystery as free agency begins

Saturday was last day Islanders had the advantage of offering an 8-year contract to their star center.

Islanders center John Tavares moves the puck to

Islanders center John Tavares moves the puck to center ice during the third period of a game on March 24 at Barclays Center. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

This was the third option, the one few saw coming.

Saturday was supposed to be somewhat of a cut-and-dried decision day in the John Tavares free-agent watch. Either news was supposed to break that the Islanders’ franchise player would stay with the team that drafted him first overall in 2009, or there was supposed to be an indication of which of the five other reported suitors for his services Tavares had picked.

Instead, Saturday turned out to be another long day of waiting without a resolution.

The free-agent market opens at noon Sunday. Saturday was the last day for the Islanders to have the advantage of being able to offer Tavares an eight-year deal, as opposed to the seven-year maximum he can be offered by other teams.

So though no announcement of Tavares returning to the Islanders on Saturday certainly does not seem to bode well for the franchise, it does not seal his departure from Long Island. The Islanders still can sign Tavares on Sunday or in the days that follow.

Tavares reportedly met with representatives of the Islanders, Sharks, Bruins, Stars, Lightning and hometown Maple Leafs between Monday and Wednesday at the Los Angeles CAA office of agent Pat Brisson. Tavares then returned to his home in the Toronto area to weigh the offers.

And that’s where the process remained Saturday as an intense bidding war for Tavares apparently was in full force.

The Islanders reportedly started the week with an eight-year, $88-million deal, but there will be little surprise now if Tavares’ annual salary-cap hit lands north of $12 million.

But beyond the contract figures, the crux of Tavares having trouble making a decision seemed to be indecision on exactly where he would feel most comfortable.

Tavares stated all season that he hoped it would work out with the Islanders, and he did ask former general manager Garth Snow not to deal him away before the Feb. 26 trade deadline. That generated optimism within the Islanders’ organization that Tavares truly wanted to stay.

Still, he did not sign an extension, not even after the Islanders hired Lou Lamoriello as president May 22 and Stanley Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz on June 21.

That allowed Brisson, a savvy negotiator, to set up meetings for other suitors to make their pitch.

Obviously, Tavares liked some of the things he heard from the Islanders’ competition.

If Tavares’ Islanders career is over, he finishes his tenure with 272 goals and 349 assists in 669 regular-season games. But the Islanders reached the playoffs only three times in his nine seasons, winning just one series.

Despite the Islanders’ offseason improvements in hiring Lamoriello and Trotz and having an NHL-high $32.8 million in salary-cap space, per CapFriendly.com, there still are questions facing the franchise.

Most notable is the team’s arena situation. The Islanders’ struggle to secure a new arena has been a constant theme during Ta vares’ career.

Pending all the necessary environmental approvals, a new arena at Belmont Park is supposed to open in 2021, but the Islanders are scheduled to split home games between Barc lays Center and a renovated Nassau Coliseum for the next three seasons.

The Islanders left the outdated Nassau Coliseum for Brooklyn in 2015, though they still practice and hold their morning skates in East Meadow, forcing the players into being commuters.

But Barclays Center has proved to be inadequate for NHL hockey and the Islanders are scheduled to play 20 games this season in Uniondale. For now, the Islanders are scheduled to play a total of 68 games at Nassau Coliseum over the next three seasons.

With the Isles

John Tavares’ career numbers:

669Games

272Goals

349Assists

621Points

-42Plus/Minus

307PIM

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