Will he stay or will he go? John Tavares has to make The Decision that will impact the Islanders for years to come. Management says it wants him to stay for as long as he wants to skate on an NHL slice of ice.
“We want to be in a situation where he has the Stanley Cup over his head wearing an Islander jersey,” general manager Garth Snow said Monday at Northwell Health Ice Center. “We want him to retire as an Islander.”
The uncertainty about Tavares’ future came along with the Islanders’ season, which concluded without a postseason attached. With his six-year, $33-million contract expiring, the 27-year-old center is an impending unrestricted free agent. The free agency signing period begins on July 1.
Snow said re-signing Tavares is “our Plan A and Plan B” for the offseason. After Monday’s exit meetings, Tavares expressed his desire to return but was noncommittal about actually re-signing. The captain spoke of his affection for all things Islanders but left the window open a bit to possibly climb out.
“I’m hoping that I’m coming back,” Tavares said. “I love it here.”
But he also said, “I think I’ve earned the right to take my time and go from there. I don’t know if it’s going to be a week, two weeks, a month, two months.”
Tavares said he realizes there aren’t many opportunities “to get to this point and possibly see what the landscape is. And I don’t even necessarily know if that’s what I really want to do yet . . . It’s a great organization, a great place to play.”
He added, “I don’t think you just say it’s only going to be about hockey. I think you look at all the factors. But all the factors here are great.”
This ninth season was another quality season for him with 37 goals and 47 assists. But this marked the sixth time the Isles missed the playoffs since they made him the first overall pick in 2009.
“Obviously, it’s a big decision,” Tavares said. “It’s not an easy decision. I want to give myself the best opportunity to win the Stanley Cup, and I obviously want to do it here. So I hope it works out.”
He also expressed his comfort level with Snow and coach Doug Weight.
“I have a lot of trust in them going forward,” Tavares said.
Weight said he spoke with Tavares at their exit meeting about “things he needs to do better and more consistent from a leadership role in leading our team as our best player.”
Tavares’ teammates would love for him to continue as their leader, but they would understand if he departed. They also know that would be a big hit to the cause.
“He’s a generational talent,” Cal Clutterbuck said. “He’s the face of the franchise. If he goes somewhere else, obviously it’s his choice. All [of us] would wish him the best. But that would be tough for the franchise to deal with, I think, for the first couple of years.”