John Tavares saw three close friends scatter for new NHL homes on July 1, but the Islanders’ captain has no thoughts of following suit when his contract is up after the 2017-18 season.
“I don’t really have any reason to leave and I think we have a great makeup and a team that can do something special this year,” Tavares told Newsday yesterday. “I’ve always expressed my love for playing for Long Island. It’s where I started; it’s all I know in the NHL. The opportunity they’ve given me, I would love to see it all the way through and win a Stanley Cup.
“It’s rare to see players stay in one place their whole career. There’s obviously still a lot of time, but Long Island is where I enjoy playing, I love being the captain there and they’ve treated me so well. The people, the fans have always been so good to me.”
The topic of Tavares’ happiness after seven seasons with the Islanders comes up seemingly every offseason. That’s particularly true in his hockey-mad home of Toronto, and the Maple Leafs missed out on a chance to woo Steven Stamkos, another homegrown star, when he re-signed with the Lightning days before free agency began.
With Kyle Okposo (Sabres), Frans Nielsen (Red Wings) and Matt Martin (Maple Leafs) departing in a matter of hours last month and the headaches that Tavares and his teammates endured during the first season at Barclays Center, some have assumed that he would rather leave the Isles’ uncertain arena situation behind in two years.
But Tavares, who gave the Isles their first playoff series victory since 1993 with his double-overtime goal in Game 6 against the Panthers in April, sees the excitement coming from new majority owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin and the progress the team made in winning that series as two of many reasons to like his current situation.
Ledecky said in his first public comments last month that he wants to win a Stanley Cup and wants Tavares to hoist it. That would mean the Islanders are prepared to start talking extension with their captain on July 1, 2017, which general manager Garth Snow has said he will do.
“Winning that tough series against a good team gave us the belief that we’ve got what it takes to go right to the end,” Tavares said. “I know how excited [Ledecky and Malkin] are, I know they’ve expressed their commitment, their desire to win a Stanley Cup, and they want to do everything they can to make that happen. Any time you see that type of commitment from the top, it goes a long way, all the way down to the players. Definitely got some very good first impressions and looking forward to what’s ahead.”
What’s ahead for Tavares is the World Cup, which starts in September in Toronto. His last appearance for Team Canada, in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, ended with a knee injury that cost Tavares the rest of his Islanders season and a shot at playing in the medal round.
“Sochi was special, but I missed the two games that are so important and memorable. The semis and the final, that’s what you play for,” he said. “I had to miss those, and hopefully I’ll have another chance this time around.
“It feels nice that they wanted me to be a part of this tournament. It’s a great honor every time you get that chance. And in my hometown, my home country, not many guys get that chance.”
Isles sign goalie Gibson. The Islanders announced the signing of goaltender Christopher Gibson to a one-year, two-way contract. He will earn $675,000, according to the hockey contract website generalfanager.com. Gibson, 23, earned his first NHL win April 5 in Washington as the Islanders clinched a playoff berth. The Isles’ other three goalies — Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss and J-F Berube — are under contract.
— STEVEN MARCUS